Fears Rushden Lakes is drawing visitors away from Northampton after quarterly footfall drops by 700k

Abington Street.
Abington Street.

Between April and June 2019 cameras in the town centre recorded footfall had fallen in Northampton by 729,449 in comparison with 2018 figures.

A report by councillor Tim Hadland has disclosed that cameras in the town centre have recorded 3,826,307 visitors in 2019, compared with 4,555,756 in 2018.

Gold Street.

Gold Street.

Despite a recent ipmotus to boost trade in the centre and the opening of the new Waterside university campus nearby, the figures have prompted fears that Northampton is still struggling against the out-of-town giants nearby.

Councillor Gareth Eales (Lab, Spencer) said: “The figures are a concern, but to some extent it’s not really surprising.

"There are a multitude of factors that are aiding the decline of our town centre, the super-size retail experience of both Milton Keynes and Rushden Lakes, the loss of certain big retailers over the last twelve months, increases in parking charges and reduced bus services can only assist a reduction in foot-fall.

"Imagine how much more of a reduction we would have seen without the new university campus? This only makes the need to get the so-called 'Town Centre Masterplan' 100 per cent right, with all political parties working together, whilst ensuring maximum citizen participation in a transparent democratic process.”

Although the figures in the July report mention April to June specifically, Northampton Business Improvement District (BID) has said that, since the return of the sandpit in Market Square on July 23, footfall did increase by 3.5 per cent compared to the previous week.

This was better than the two per cent increase seen across the East Midlands and the 2.2 per cent increase seen across the UK.

Mark Mullen, BID operations manager, said: “Recent statistics do reflect a decline in footfall across the town, however high street footfall continues to show a downward trend at a national level and the east midlands is not performing as well as the rest of the UK.

"Retail closures across the UK inevitably have an impact on towns and their proposition."

READ MORE: Take a closer look at Northampton Forward's vision for the town centre

However, as part of the town's longer-term strategy, civic leaders are bidding for a £25 million share of the Government’s Future High Streets programme - part of which would be used to build an indoor food hall.

As part of the plan the five areas of focus for the funding would be Marefair and Gold Street, the Market Square, Greyfriars, Fish Street and St Giles’ Street and Abington Street (Eastgate).

Mr Mullen added: "Northampton Forward, in which the BID is actively involved, has formulated a long term plan but has also highlighted the need and opportunity for short-term focus. The BID will continue to work in addressing issues affecting our businesses and arranging events and projects to encourage additional footfall and spend.

"In collaboration with NBC, we have a compelling programme of events throughout the Summer which will continue throughout the Autumn and into Christmas trading.

"The BID has also recently published an online and a printed directory of food and drink venues to showcase the town’s offer. During September and October we will be celebrating our great evening and night-time food, drink and leisure offer which has been recognised with the national Purple Flag accreditation.”

READ MORE: Public can now comment on Northampton town centre masterplan

Northampton's decline in footfall comes at a time when Rushden Lakes has just celebrated its second birthday and has recorded 10 million visitors in two years.

Councillor Jonathan Nunn, leader of Northampton Borough Council, said: “As the shape of retail changes, footfall is declining each year in town centres across the country. Through Northampton Forward, we are working to revitalise the town centre and give people additional reasons to visit.

“Throughout the summer holidays, we’re running a programme of family activities in partnership with the Northampton Town Centre Business Improvement District (BID) which includes the Market Beach, a heritage festival, interactive historical tours and a shoe sculpture trail.

“The new Northampton Museum and Art Gallery is set to open in spring 2020, and will feature a new gallery space capable of hosting major touring exhibitions and our internationally-important shoe collection.

“We continue to support town centre businesses through our Business Incentive Scheme grants, which have already helped a large number of independents, including Soo Yoga, Mooch, the Zip Yard and Moulton Kitchens.

“And in autumn 2020, 59 lettable units will open in the Vulcan Works in the heart of the town centre, specifically aimed at start-ups and growing businesses.

“Longer term, Northampton Forward will continue to work with regeneration specialist architects to develop projects in line with the masterplan for the town centre, which will be submitted as part of our second stage bid to the Future High Streets Fund.”