Northampton business leader: footfall is good - but tills ‘not overflowing yet’

Stephen Church

Stephen Church

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A business leader has welcomed the introduction of the free parking scheme in Northampton, but said shoppers were still reluctant to part with their cash.

Stephen Church, the former managing director of Church’s China and current owner of the UK Gift Company, said that after speaking to other businesses in Northampton, punters may well still be feeling the pinch of recession, as retailers profits were not rising as fast as many hoped. He said: “If the visitor numbers are up then that’s a good thing. Unfortunately the businesses I speak to say there is no discernible impact on sales as of yet.

“So one wonders what the extra people are doing when they get to the town centre.”

He went on to say: “The biggest lesson we can learn from history is that we can never learn from history. Every recession and every recovery is different. There is a danger that the current recovery is being driven by house prices. Currently, people aren’t feeling better off just yet.”

Mr Church compiled a 23-page report on the state of the town centre in September – in which he recommended the introduction of free parking – and he has stuck by that recommendation this week.

He said: “I think it is an idea well worth the council pursuing, though I do worry what services will suffer form the shortfall in revenue.”

But he reiterated a call made by many townsfolk last week that free parking alone will not draw shoppers in. The Greyfriars site, now back in council hands, could hold the key. “Bringing a big name retail outlet to the town is critical,” he said. “You can have permanent free parking anywhere, but if there are no decent shops, people won’t bother coming in.”