Argus survey shows depth of Newport city centre crisis
NEWPORT city centre is in crisis with almost a quarter of shops lying empty and a 42 per cent vacancy rate in one street alone, an Argus study reveals today.
Shoppers and retailers united in deploring the demise of the once vibrant hub, as major chains Bonmarche and Sports Direct prepared to close two branches in Commercial Street this weekend.
The latest high-street casualties came to light as our survey showed 42 per cent of shops were now shut in Lower Dock Street, which leads to the landmark indoor market dating back to 1864.
John Frost Square has a 68 per cent vacancy rate, albeit with some shops awaiting redevelopment as part of a multi-million pound scheme featuring a Debenhams and a Cineworld multiplex. This is not expected to be completed before 2015.
Businesses and shoppers warned that Newport City Centre was "dying".
Our study showed Newport city centre was blighted by more than 100 shop closures - 24.88 per cent of the total surveyed.
Meanwhile, a separate Freedom of Information request showed that more than £700,000 of business rates had been lost because of shop closures in the city centre since 2008. Council chiefs collected £210,000 in business rates in the last four years.
Retailers and shoppers painted a bleak picture saying the city centre was suffering while the out-of-town Spytty shopping centre in Seven Stiles Avenue, Newport, and Cwmbran Shopping continued to boom.
They said the lack of good parking facilities was one of the main reasons for the demise of the city centre, with only Kingsway Shopping Centre near John Frost Square offering free parking.
Traders at Newport Market in Lower Dock Street called for the town centre to be re-pedestrianised to give shoppers more parking after losing a 500-space car park in Cambrian Road in December.
The traders understand the car park is to be used by Admiral Insurance but the council said 290 spaces would be created at the site.
Retailers and shoppers also criticised council chiefs over delays in completing works at the market and John Frost Square, which could help revitalise the city centre.
AM's shock at survey results
Conservative AM William Graham spoke of his shock after seeing the survey’s results.
He said: "It’s extraordinary and worse than one thinks. Newport City Council must take urgent action following this devastating survey by the South Wales Argus.
"Free parking should be restored at once as well as better signage and access to the city centre."
Newport Chamber of Trade president Alan Edwards, 64, said: "What you're seeing in Newport is a small growth of independent shops. We're not getting back the big companies and we probably won't until we get the John Frost Square redevelopment. Spytty doesn't help."
Labour AM for Newport West Rosemary Butler said: "The findings of your retail survey demonstrate that empty shops in Newport continue to be of increasing concern.
"With the drive towards redevelopment of the city centre by Newport City Council and continuing investment from the Welsh Government, I am confident that businesses will return to the city centre."
Latest high-street casualties:
Bonmarche, Commercial Street, closes on Saturday - Bonmarche was unvailable for comment.
SportsDirect, Commercial Street, closes on Sunday - The chain declined to comment on the closure.
HMV, Commercial Street, is set to close by April 3 - The chain went into administration in January and all 10 staff at the store are to be made redundant, administrators Deloitte said.
‘Shop closures are killing Newport’
Nadeem Hussain, 19, of Amira fashion shop in Commercial Street, said: "The town is lost. The business chances for getting jobs have gone down. Newport is getting tougher for a lot of people."
Liz McAinsh, 58, of Llantarnam, said: "Newport is closing down. Shop closures are killing Newport. There isn't enough car parking. It's all charity shops and Cwmbran is loving it. Everything was supposed to be coming with the Ryder Cup in 2010. The Ryder Cup came and went and Newport closed."
Her husband Chris, 59, said: "It could be made into a superb shopping centre if it was done properly."
Commercial Street businessman Peter Georgiou, 60, said: "We've told the council for 20 years about getting parking. The shops have gone. It's a nightmare."
Phil Baggott, 21, of the Carpenters pub in the High Street, said: "Everyone is leaving the town centre. Everything is going to Spytty and Cwmbran. I think generally there is no money going around. Luckily enough we seem to be doing all right."
Gill Jackson, 64, the manager of the Band newsagent kiosk in Upper Dock Street, said: "Next has gone, Marks & Spencer has closed down. There is nothing except charity shops and charity shops."
Jeff Baker, 42, of electronics store Hi Fi Western in Cambrian Road, said: "It's terrible. I've lived here all my life. Unfortunately, places like Cwmbran are bustling. The council should be encouraging people to shop in the town centre. The Debenhams is supposed to be happening for years.
"I miss not being able to go to Marks & Sparks - this is high-street retail. I really want to believe in Newport but it's getting worse and worse."
Chris Williams, 59, of the Fruit Machine stall in Upper Dock Street, said: "It's shocking. Something's got to happen with all the empty shops. I feel a bit let down."
Mike Turner, 43, of AD Turner & Sons butchers at Newport Market, said: "In the '90s we had a very vibrant town. We said 'Please don't pedestrianise but they did and virtually overnight a lot of businesses shut down. This is a beautiful Victorian market and its redevelopment is fabulous. It needs to happen as soon as possible. The market has plenty to offer."
His mum Theresa added: "We are desperate. The works at the market are 13 weeks behind schedule."
Market shopper Sue Freeman, 43, of Blackbird Road, Caldicot, said: "It's really bad. I've been coming here for 30 years. There is no incentive to come here. There is nowhere to park."
John Kerr, 62, of the Strawberry Water Junk shop in Upper Dock Street, said: "The council have got to get some car parking and finish the bus station as soon as possible or there will be more shops closing.
"They should unpedestrianised the area around the market. This would magically give you parking spaces."
Redevelopment 'cannot come quickly enough'
FIGURES obtained by Plaid Assembly member Lindsay Whittle showed the losses of business rates in Newport and he said the city centre redevelopment cannot come quickly enough.
However Bob Bright, Newport council leader, criticised the AM saying he "has not brought forward any solutions" to the problems in Newport city centre.
Landlords can obtain some relief from business rates if their properties become vacant.
Between 2008/09 and 2012/13 £692,297 was lost in revenue from empty shops and premises in Newport city centre.
There were 59 such properties in 2008/09, 60 in 09/10, 58 in 10/11, 69 in 2011/12 and 53 to date in 2012/13.
Meanwhile £23,098 was lost in revenue from empty market stalls between 2010/11 and this current financial year.
Mr Whittle said: “Newport city centre is struggling and I’ve been very concerned about the loss of major names like Marks & Spencer. The Friars Walk development cannot come quickly enough.
“It’s not just about the loss of revenue from empty shops but also the overall impression it gives to shoppers and visitors.
“I’m pleased that work on revamping Newport Market is taking place and this is clearly very necessary to make it more attractive for traders and shoppers, given the high percentage of empty stalls.”
Business rates are not set by councils and are collected by local authorities on behalf of the Welsh Government.
Council doing 'everything within its power' to help city centre - leader
COUNCIL chief Bob Bright said the authority was doing "everything within its power" to improve the city centre.
The Labour leader said the regeneration of Newport was moving forward with works on the market, bus station and £108,000 allocated towards economic regeneration including the city centre.
He confirmed the John Frost Square revamp was due to begin later this year and stressed the Admiral Insurance development near Cambrian Road was to bring hundreds of jobs next year.
A council spokeswoman said that Admiral development would feature retail and leisure space and 290 parking spaces, adding there were still 2,800 spaces in the city centre despite the loss of the Cambrian car park.
Cllr Bright said talks were under way with the Welsh Government and the Chamber of Trade to further enhance the city centre.
He said: "The council is doing everything within its power to assist and improve the city centre while itself dealing with tough financial restrains as a result of national austerity. We regard this as a priority but we do not have a magic wand that can solve the problems overnight."