SPECIAL REPORT: Northampton town centre showing signs of recovery with 77 empty shops

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Independent retailers are leading a high street comeback in Northampton as our yearly town centre healthcheck shows an improvement on last year’s worst ever figures.

While in 2015 there was a worrying 83 empty units in Northampton town centre, this year that number has gone back to 77 - the same figure seen in 2014.

Much has happened since we last took to Northampton to test the health of the high street.

While St Giles Street won High Street of the Year in a government-run competition, the recent collapse of BHS has left what a council chief described a “retail vaccuum” on Abington Street’s biggest units.

A number of independent new stores, restaurants, cafes and “vaping” vendors have helped steady the ship this year, with the Drapery showing the biggest area of improvement.

The Ridings Arcade, which was only half occupied in 2014, is now also full.

Northampton Borough Council’s cabinet member for regeneration, Councillor Tim Hadland, believes independent traders are the helping to stage a fightback.

He said: “That really is our unique selling point as a town. We have a very strong base of independent stores, some that have been here for 100 years, others who are just opening.”

Our figures show Abington Street and the Grosvenor Centre both have one less empty unit than this time last year – even though both have been affected by the collapse of BHS.

Grosvenor Centre manager John Partington said the loss of BHS would affect footfall.

“Obviously it had doors from both our upper and lower mall so we would have lost a significant amount of foot flow,” he said. “It was an attraction for the centre.”

Mr Partington believes the former BHS could be sectioned off into smaller units, rather than market as one

big two floored site. “Money can sort any problem,” he said. “It’s just a case of how much money can the landlords throw at it.”

Talks are now ongoing between the council, the Grosvenor Centre owners Legal and General and the owners of the former BHS building, Threadkneedle Investments Limited, to get the two-storey premises filled.

Elsewhere in Northampton the award-winning St Giles Street, actually has one more empty unit than last year. However the street is currently undergoing a period of noisy construction work as a £3 million revamp is completed.

Turkish restaurant Pamukkale is also expanding into a neighbouring premises and Councillor Hadland said a beauty business, a haberdashery and a clothing store are all set to take up premises there.

“My greatest barometer for success is how long places stay empty,” the cabinet member added. “My feeling is that premises are not staying empty as long as they used to.

“Though there are one or two ‘hardy perennials’.”

Speaking of “hardy perennials” there are still no takers for the large unit once occupied by Primark in the depedestrianised area of Abington Street.

Councillor Hadland maintains the £6 million move to return a cars to street was a good idea, though the home furnishings store whoch replaced Primark initially failed, Gallone’s ice cream parlour, the Eastgate pub and the Sol cafe have all vacated the top end of the street.

Grosvenor Centre has a ‘rosy future’ despite BHS loss, says boss

The double-floored shopping mall dubbed the “engine room” of Northampton town centre may have lost a retail giant at its northern end – but the centre boss claims some long vacated units are now on the verge of being filled.

Footwear giants Office are about to move into the former Menkind unit on the bottom floor after the gadget store moved into a neighbouring space.

Centre manager John Partington said that will then create a “kiosk” area behind Accesorise which, Mr Partington said has attracted interested tenants. Though he could not say who, he also revealed new retailers are close to taking over the former Vision Express outlet on the upper mall and the vacated Internacionale store beneath it.

Both offers, he said were in the ‘solicitors’ hands’. “One of the retailers already has a unit in Northampton and the other will be new to the town,” he added.

There are still plans for the Northamptonshire-based Bewiched Coffee House to open a new outlet, right next to Costa, on he top floor of the centre. Affordable shoe retailer Deichman is also expanding, to effectively take up four units on the upper mall.

“All in all the future is rosy for this centre,” added Mr Partington.

Empty shops survey

ABINGTON STREET:

2014:

76 occupied, 12 empty

2015:

75 occupied, 13 empty

2016:

76 occupied, 12 empty

St Giles Street:

2014:

44 occupied, 6 empty

2015:

50 occupied, 7 empty

2016:

48 occupied, 8 empty

MARKET SQUARE:

2014:

23 occupied, 4 empty

2015:

21 occupied, 6 empty

2016:

21 occupied, 6 empty

GROSVENOR CENTRE:

2014:

54 occupied, 8 empty

2015: 48 occupied, 12 empty (NB total number of units dropped by 2 in 2015)

2016: 49 occupied, 11 empty (former BHS classed as 2)

MARKET WALK:

2014:

15 occupied, 10 empty

2015:

18 occupied, 7 empty

2016:

17 occupied, 8 empty (former Next classed as 2)

THE DRAPERY:

2014:

27 occupied, 4 empty

2015:

24 occupied, 7 empty

2016:

28 occupied, 3 empty

GOLD STREET:

2014:

51 occupied, 11 empty

2015:

52 occupied, 10 empty

2016:

54 occupied, 8 empty

BRIDGE STREET:

2014:

31 occupied, 9 empty

2015:

33 occupied, 7 empty

2016:

33 occupied, 7 empty

TOTAL EMPTY UNITS (including minor streets):

2014: 77

2015: 83

2016: 77