Northampton's M&S would be perfect for a 'Star City' or housing says expert - but not another department store
It's time we stopped looking to the big multi-nationals to swoop in and save Northampton according to a marketing expert - who is backing our campaign to keep the town centre vibrant.
Senior marketing lecturer at the University of Northampton, Kardi Somerfield, believes we should not be looking to fill the vacant BHS outlet in Abington Street and the soon-to-be-vacant M&S two doors down with a "natural successor".
Instead, she has joined Northampton pub chain boss Paul McManus in suggesting the town centre needs to build a strong leisure offer to keep bringing people in.
"These multi-national retailers are having a hard time," she said - speaking to the Chron in Abington Street yesterday, on a day where Poundworld had gone into administration.
"We tend to think of these guys as drawing people into the town - and everything else is a sideshow.
"But now we need to think of our independents as the main attraction.
"If we are hoping this is going to be another BHS-sized retailer - it's not going to happen."
Ms Somerfield - who recently helped set up a floral shoe trail around the town centre to brighten up the high street - says the landlords of the M&S and BHS sites could consider converting the properties into housing, which would have a positive effect on footfall.
"I think a lot of empty retail space could be converted into housing. We have a housing crisis in this country.
"The challenge will be around the landlords. Who is in a position to get them to think differently to having it sit there empty.
"I really think a lot of retail space needs to go to residential.
"I live in St Giles Terrace. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but I love living there. I like the fact i can walk out to a restaurant or a bar.2
Either BHS or M&S could be considered as sites for a big leisure option as well, she believes - including the idea of a food court.
"We have recently been pointing to Rushden Lakes as drawing people away from the town centre.
"But just look at Sixfields - you have a cinema there, a bowling alley, Sainsbury's, Next. It's likely that the out-of-town shopping centres nearer to home are having an impact.
"There needs to be things to come to Northampton for.
"With these big, wide streets, it would be nice to develop a real cafe culture here.
"And I don't see why we couldn't have a Star City here to bring people into town. You often find retail will spring up around these leisure options too."
But aside from major high street developments, Ms Somerfield believes there are little bits we can all be doing to keep Northampton town centre vibrant.
"A lot of this is about having some civic pride in the town," she said.
"If those people who constantly had negative things to say about the town centre came in to shop here, they would transform the place."