Last week Mary Queen of Shops TV star Mary Portas, published The High Street Review alongside new government-commissioned research which underlines how badly affected the town centre is. The report, entitled Understanding High Street Performance, suggests that a third of High Streets are “degenerating or failing”. It says retail spending in town centres has fallen to 42% from 49% in 2000 and is projected to fall further to 40% by 2014. In contrast, both online and out-of-town shopping have risen, with online sales doubling since 2000 to 10% and predicted to rise to more than 12% by 2014.
Dunscar director Shaun Lewis said: “While some of the High Street Review’s findings, as reported in the mainstream media, seem quite sensible, what we do object to is the negative stance taken towards out-of-town retailers such as ourselves. The report’s “town centre first” policy, as reported by the BBC website, suggests new planning restrictions on retailers choosing out-of-town sites if town centre options are available. It also floats the possibility of a new tax on car parks currently provided free at out-of-town shopping centres in an attempt to encourage more customers back into town centres.
“While we fully support the revitalisation of our town centres, it just seems a bit simplistic to suggest this should be achieved by victimising retail outlets outside the town centre. As a garden centre, our rural location is an integral part of what we offer. We are a destination for many, a place to get away to and escape the hustle and bustle for a more relaxed experience.
“We would argue that the high street’s challenges are actually much the same as our own in the form of online shopping. We have reacted to that challenge to make our centre more interesting by opening up a specialist cook shop and country clothing department to offer exciting ranges of products that aren’t generally found on the high street or in other garden centres. At the same time we have launched an online offer via our website www.hilaryclare.com. We can’t see why high street shops cannot do the same or why we are apparently being painted as the bogey-man by Ms Portas.”