As House of Fraser announces it is pulling out of Birmingham and Solihull, Keith Draper argues that it’s time to re-think the City Centre South shopping development. Designed specifically to attract the multi-nationals. He asks the question: “Isn’t it time to think again? Isn’t it time to stop putting all our eggs in one basket, relying forever on the whims of profit-driven big boys?”
It’s understandable our City Fathers should want to see our retail offer move up the rankings, but half a minute, shouldn’t we really be taking a fresh look at this grandiose City Centre South scheme granted outline planning consent all those years ago in 2012. Six years ago! Hasn’t the retail trade moved on since those days?
From what I read it’s a challenging market for retailers. Spending is squeezed and costs are rising. We are already seeing an acceleration of store closures among the multi-nationals. Online continues to outperform the rest of the market. Clearly the multi-national store still has a part to play but it looks as though there will be fewer of them. No doubt you will recall that the whole purpose of City Centre South was to provide a considerable number of units with deeper trading floors for the big chains. Does this make sense in the prevailing climate?
The Society has always believed the small local retailer needs better support, especially in these challenging days. Often the owner has invested considerable time and sums of money to provide an individual service to shoppers. Think Agers; think Walter Smith; think Butterfly Bras. Take the City Centre South redevelopment area. There are still some highly successful businesses that have clung on here despite no security of tenure. No promise of alternative premises to trade from when the day of eviction arrives. Does this make sense?
Some of us will have lived through the years of comprehensive redevelopment that brought to fruition the precincts we enjoy today. Has the Council thought through the effect of massive demolition in Market Way, Shelton Square, the City Arcade, Bull Yard and Herford Street? How will it affect trading in the rest of the city centre as these challenging times continue. It’s hard to imagine the effect it will have on the reputation of Coventry as we head towards City of Culture 2021. So what is the alternative? Few would deny that much of the city centre needs to be updated. It’s scruffy and ill-kept. Frontages once the pride of the Gibson plan have been neglected. They appear to provide the ammunition that developers and the Council look for to demolish. What happened to pride in our central streetscapes and precincts?
Oddly enough the more intimate environments of Shelton Square and Bull Yard and the City Arcade have the sort of premises eminently suited to the small trader. So why not restore, modernise, re-face?
The shopping experience in City Arcade, neglected for years
Form a small retailers’ trust. A co-operative that might negotiate the sort of rents that are affordable. A sustainable city centre shining out with the sort of shop window displays we once enjoyed? Put together by enthusiastic shop staff.
Isn’t it time to give our young entrepreneurs a real opportunity to become part of a new small trader community. The seeds are there. You see them emerge in shop units that have lain waste for months.
This approach may well not appeal to developers like Shearer. Perhaps not entirely true if only our City Council gave a lead. Surely there has to be an alternative plan at this crucial time. I urge the Council to think again.
Keith Draper. Vice Chairman of the Coventry Society, July 2018
This article first appeared as the lead article in the July 2018 edition of the Coventry Society newsletter. It was subsequenly reprinted in the Coventry Telegraph. There was support for Keith’s position in an editorial in the Coventry Observer. What do you think?
Reader Comments (3)
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