More shops shut than opened in Northampton last year according to retail survey

Abington Street, Northampton
Abington Street, Northampton

Shop closures outweighed store openings in Northampton last year according to a new survey, which has revealed a further decline in the region’s high street.

The healthcheck of town centres in the East Midlands by professional services network PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), shows that far more outlets shut across the region than opened in 2014.

In Northampton 26 retail units closed, while only 17 opened.

Partner and retail expert at PwC in the East Midlands, Andy Lyon, said the decline in retail outlets is likely to continue over the coming years as more people choose to buy their goods on the internet.

He said: “We’re again seeing the continued effects of the digital revolution and consequent change in customer behaviour play out on the high street – these trends have been with us for some time and we should expect the rate of closures to continue.

“As customers are embracing new digital and mobile technologies, traditional retail channels to market are being forced to integrate with online channels to respond to this change in behaviour.

“The impact of this is that many retailers are choosing to invest in their online offering, rather than their store portfolio.”

Mr Lyon said high streets needed to ‘evolve’ to be relevant in the future as he said the younger generation had grown up with online shopping, mobile phones and wide-spread broadband and had ‘a very different relationship’ with traditional high streets than previous generations.

But leader of Northampton Borough Council, Councillor David Mackintosh (Con, Rectory Farm) said the PwC figures do not tally with the borough council’s own town centre healthcheck figures.

He said: “Every three months we complete a comprehensive survey of the town centre. We look at over 450 retail units and business premises.

“This gives us a large amount of detailed information about the health of our town centre that is regularly updated.

“In 2013 just over 16 per cent of premises in the town centre were vacant. Through free parking offers, Northampton Alive improvements and the success of the Business Incentive Scheme we have seen this figure drop to below 12 per cent.

“We have listened to our business community and worked with them to look at how the Borough Council can help to stimulate the local economy.

“Footfall figures are showing thousands of more people coming into Northampton, and a drop in the number of vacant units.”

Leader of the borough’s Labour group Councillor Les Marriott (Lab, Semilong) said, if the PwC figures are to be believed, the record of the town’s conservative administration could be called into question.

He said: “Seeing a decline in the number of overall shops in the town centre means you have to ask the question whether certain ‘Northampton Alive’ projects, such as North Gate Bus Station and the opening up of Abington Street, has actually been worthwhile.

“The number of shop closures must be very disappointing for Councillor Mackintosh having launched so many projects that don’t seem to have revitalised the town centre in the way he promised.”

Across the East Midlands the PwC figures show 446 outlets closed and 299 opened, a net reduction of 147 shops.

However Wellingborough Road in Northampton was one of only three areas in the PwC report to retain its number of shops - with one closure matched by a store opening.

Restructuring partner at PwC, Rob Hunt, said phone shops and money lending shops were hardest hit in the past year, though discount stores, charity shops and financial advisors ‘bucked the trend’ in the region by showing some growth.

He added that the insolvencies of Phones4U, Albemarle & Bond, and La Senza had also caused the 2014 figures to be so high.

“Despite the continuing problem of closures, new sub-sectors, such as discount shops and charity shops keep growing,” he said. “The strength of the restaurant and fast-food sectors is also a boost for the high street.”