Independent Scarborough traders have forecasted a gloomy future for the town centre, with the clamour for out of town shopping units set to possibly turn the area into a “ghost town”.
Scarborough’s Chamber of Trade says it is increasingly worried about the number of big national chains moving into newly created units in Seamer Road, and by-passing the traditional heart of the town.
The fresh concerns follow confirmation that the fast-growing budget retailer B&M will move into a 10,000sqft unit on the site of the old Mere Social Club.
Some local traders say the shift is simply “inevitable”. But chamber president Janet Jefferson is worried a mixture of the council’s “shifting” planning policy, coupled with enticing perks such as free parking, will see more and more firms stay away from Scarborough’s high street.
“It would be wrong of us not to raise a warning that we should try to maintain the difference between what you can buy at the retail parks and what is on offer in the town centre,” she said.
“If the current trend continues we can envisage a time when there will be no need to go into the town centre at all as there will be the ability to meet all your shopping needs, with free parking, out of town.
“That would be a crying shame for all the excellent independent shops in the town centre which contribute so much and help give Scarborough its unique character.”
B&M is expected to open its doors in early 2014 at the Gary Ledden-developed unit, which once fully constructed will have over 30 parking spaces.
The firm has vowed to kick-start the recruitment process soon, and a B&M spokesperson said: “We are delighted to announce that B&M Retail will be occupying the new retail unit on Seamer Road.
“We look forward to becoming an integral part of the local community in Scarborough.”
Mrs Jefferson said that while the chamber welcomes all investment into Scarborough, the decision for B&M to stay away from the town centre was “disappointing”, considering the large number of empty units in the town centre.
The departure of fallen giant Comet has left a notable space vacant for just under a year now, and the JobCentre’s relocation to Northway has created a new large vacancy in Aberdeen Walk.
Mrs Jefferson has previously told of her desire to see a store like Primark arrive in Scarborough, and over 5,600 people joined a Facebook group calling for KFC to move into the town.
And citing the vacant Comet unit, Paul Tomlinson, owner of Secret Spot Surf Shop in Pavilion Terrace, said: “I’d like to see that premises occupied. An empty building doesn’t look great, nor is it going to attract shoppers and potential customers to this part of town.
“The town centre needs more businesses in it to provide people with a reason to come here and shop.”
However, local businessman Graeme Young said that the shift away from the town centre was simply the reality of the modern world.
“I think it is an inevitable reality that more businesses will move out of town where access is better and parking is more convenient,” said Mr Young.
“It is not great news for the town centre, however you cannot force people to shop where they don’t want to.”
David Walker, Scarborough Borough Council’s Planning Services Manager, denied that there had been a shift in planning policy - and that the “vitality and viability” of Scarborough Town Centre was still a priority to the council.
“The concerns of the Chamber of Trade are appreciated,’ said Mr Walker.
“The development of the site for a retail unit of around 1200 sq.m was considered to enhance the retail park.
“It was also considered that it would not adversely affect the vitality and viability of the town centre, taking account of guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework.
“The development is considered to complement the recent investment in the Seamer Road Retail Park, including new mezzanine floors, and can be viewed as a rounding off of the retail development.
“In considering the proposal the council’s Planning and Development Committee felt that the enhanced retail offer should be viewed as beneficial in terms of reducing trips out of Scarborough to larger centres and also in making the town more attractive as a destination for combined shopping and leisure trips, including visits to the town centre.”