Northampton researchers look at how underground tunnels could save town centre shops

The Mole system
The Mole system

Researchers at Northampton University are investigating whether an underground tunnel delivery system linking Brackmills with the town centre could help high street shops fight off competition from out-of-town retailers.

The idea for a network of underground tunnels in which electrically powered pods can run on tracks like an unmanned subterranean train was developed by Geddington-based Mole Solutions UK, it is currently being tested at an airfield in Huntingdon.

Dr Andrew Gough, assistant professor at the Northampton University Business School, is leading a group of postgraduate students as they explore how the concept could be used by businesses in the town.

He said: “Retailers face many challenges, notably the threat of out-of-town stores and competition from online.

“The high street is known for being particularly inefficient for stock, only 70 per cent of expensive town centre unit space is typically available for customer use with the rest being taken up by stockrooms and offices.”

At the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield and the Broadmead centre in Bristol they successfully tackled the problem by adopting a ‘common stock’ approach, freeing up shop space for expansion or remodelling by storing stock at a site nearby.

Dr Gough explained how Mole could provide a similar solution in Northampton: “The key is having a reliable, rapid, little and often supply. The Mole concept is one very attractive option for that.

”It would allow retailers to get stock from a remote location into the town centre and to do it without adding traffic to the roads.

The university will work closely with the Northampton Enterprise Partnership in order to get feedback from prominent town centre retailers over the coming months.

Dr Gough is hopeful that the retail community will get behind the idea, he said: “The big picture here is the regeneration of the high street as a shopping destination.

“Once companies and organisations in Northampton find out about the benefits of Mole, we are confident there will be sufficient demand for it to become a reality here.”