As new figures show Newport is one of the worst places in the country for empty shops, RUTH MANSFIELD finds out whether improvements to city centre trading can be made NEWPORT is among the worst places in Great Britain for empty shops, with more than one in four shops now vacant, a new report shows.

A total of 28.6 per cent of the 367 shops in the retail core of Newport are empty according to the Local Data Company report, equal to around 105 shops.

The report states this is a 2.6 per cent rise from 12 months ago.

The current figure places Newport as the fifth worst performer in the UK for vacant shops in the medium centre category. A medium centre is one which has between 200 and 399 shops.

The report comes after the Local Data Company visited 485 town centres across Great Britain.

A number of shops had left the city centre and relocated to other areas of Newport such as Next,H&Mand Topshop, which moved to Spytty.

Meanwhile other stores such as Mothercare and Millets have closed as part of the chains’ national strategy to close stores across the UK.

President of Newport Chamber of Trade, Ken Ellis said he did think the redevelopment work planned for Newport would bring more confidence to the city but that traders needed to see evidence of the work going ahead.

He said: “Trading in Newport is very, very difficult and I do think there is a lack of confidence in what’s happening in the city.

“Once the redevelopment is happening, I think this will turn around and people will be more confident in Newport – but they need to see the spades in the ground first.”

The Argus reported last week how work to finish essential gas works in High Street and Commercial Street, which were originally planned to be finished in September, are now unlikely to be completed until December.

This has left traders worried about the effect this will have on Christmas shoppers.

Mr Ellis said he would be meeting with directors of Wales and West Utilities to say how “dismayed” he was with the time schedule of the gas works.

A spokeswoman for Newport council said it is “naturally disappointed” by the figures.

She said: “Newport’s city centre retail and leisure redevelopment continues to be a priority and with planning secured and the anchor store confirmed, work is set to begin next year. It will also provide more than 1,300 retail jobs.

“A number of units in the city have been deliberately left vacant following the completion of the compulsory purchase order of properties in John Frost Square in 2010.”

She said the council is urging businesses to relocate to the city following the official launch of the Alacrity Foundation in the city last week, which aims to help graduates form successful businesses.

Chairman of Newport Unlimited, Bill Mayne, said while the figures were “disappointing”, they ignore the bigger picture that is taking place in Newport.

He highlighted the redevelopment of the Market Quarter and the Friars Walk retail scheme, which has Debenhams confirmed as an anchor store.

He added that Friars Walk is one of only two city centre retail schemes going ahead in the UK outside the M25, and recent research from Queensberry Real Estate, the developers behind the new shopping centre, shows it will put Newport back into the top 100 UK shopping destinations.

He said: “As with locations across the UK, Newport is not immune from the current economic climate, however, unlike many towns and cities, it is benefiting from a multi-million pound regeneration programme that has a 31,000 sqmnew shopping centre at its heart.”

Centre visitor figures rise

DESPITE these empty shop figures, the Argus reported in July how Newport had seen one of the UK’s biggest yearon- year increases in city centre visitors.

The city saw a 7.6 per cent rise in the number of city centre visitors during the wettest June on record, compared with the same period last year making it the ninth highest climber across the UK.

But at the time, city traders said they had not noticed any increase.

Trade fall is no surprise

MELISSA Cave runs MC Dancewear in Newport Market.

She said: “I’m not surprised at all by the figure.

“It has been very quiet in the market and other traders have noticed a drop in custom.

“I think the council could work to make the place look more attractive and try and keep the centre tidier,” she added.

Changes ‘not soon enough’ for city

TRADERS said they weren’t surprised by the figure, with some saying more needed to be done to bring traders and custom back into the city centre.

● Johanna Davies, of Davies Florist, Upper Dock Street, said: “I do find it upsetting that there are so many empty shops around. I think a lot of it is to do with the council promoting shops to move out of town to places like Spytty.

“Something needs to be done such as holding an open market in the city centre a couple of days a week to bring people into Newport.”

● Lisa Martin, of Needhams Fishmongers, Newport Market, said: “I suppose it’s down to the recession and we’re still being affected by it, plus it’s tough to compete with places such as Cardiff and Cwmbran.

“The council is really pushing for things to be redeveloped and things are changing, but it’s not soon enough. I just hope it does improve.”

● Tony Elston, of Elston’s Butchers, Newport, said: “I think the problem is that too much work is being done at once and it’s having a huge impact on the city.

“I know the gas works need to be done but I think for now they should stop the works, make good and continue it after Christmas, otherwise it is going to be an abysmal Christmas for the whole city.”