Residents and business owners in Cleveleys are calling for changes to be made within the high street, particularly on Victoria Road West, after more shop closures and empty units revealed some concerns that shopping within the coastal town was “dying.”
The introduction of the internet’s competitive prices and services, increasing business rates and rental prices, lack of free car parking and a loss in tourism trade have all been blamed for the increase in shop closures.
One of Cleveleys’ longest standing businesses- Forsyth’s- announced earlier this month they would be closing their Rossall Road store after 40 years of trading.
Now retailers and customers are questioning what needs to happen to make Cleveleys a more desirable place for new business start-ups, and how to make it easier for current retailers to continue to trade.
One of the newest businesses on Victoria Road West, Hand crafted burger and cake cafeteria, was opened in June 2019 by Paul Graham and his husband David.
David said: “To be honest, we probably would have thought twice about opening our cafe here if we had known how expensive the business rates were going to be- it's a real struggle.”
Paul agreed with his husband, and said he felt it was unfair that they were paying rent and business rates for a three-storey building when only the ground floor is fit for use.
Other retailers also had concerns that landlords were overcharging for premises based on the prominent high street, discouraging new businesses from opening.
Owner of Elegant clothing, Mohammed Jamil, has been at his store for nearly 20 years and said he felt that tourism is too often overlooked by authorities.
He said: “My store caters for the older generation and we have no parking close enough for coaches when they come here on day trips anymore- they go to Fleetwood instead.
“A lot of my custom has suffered because of this, and when my lease is up for renewal I’m going to have to really consider whether I can carry on.
“Someone needs to jump in and help local businesses, and more money should be spent on tourism.”
Mr Jamil also said he feels the lack of variety within the shops and the increasing amount of charity shops is contributing to a decline in customers in the town.
Some business owners reported that they felt the impact of Tesco leaving the high street in November 2018 strongly, with a decline in footfall since it closed.
But next week, a new Iceland store will open in the former food giant’s premises, bringing hope that customers will begin coming back to Cleveleys to shop there and use independent businesses at the same time.
Andrew Neal, the third-generation owner of The Family Bakery on Victoria Road West, said the closure of Tesco on top of car parking charges appeared to have had a knock-on effect to businesses on the high street.
He said: “The lack of free parking is an issue, nobody has long enough to browse shops and come in to the food retailers to eat anymore.
“Tesco brought people here, hopefully Iceland will do the same- it’s better than an empty unit.
“Sadly business owners now are always wondering who will be the next to go, and Cleveleys wouldn’t be half the high street it is without smaller independent businesses.”
Carl Cardwell, part owner of Grime's of Cleveleys, said his butchers has seen a noticeable decline in footfall since Tesco left, and hoped Iceland would rectify it.
He also said more needs to be done to encourage smaller independent businesses to set up in the town in future.
However, not everyone was positive about the introduction of Iceland to the high street.
Carole Stanbridge, who has worked at Fleetwood Produce for 15 years, said she was worried the new Iceland would prove too competitive in price for the locally-run independent grocery store.
She said: “Iceland may well end up killing this business.”
O2 staff suggested pedestrianisation of the road outside their store, with more entertainment and a livelier atmosphere to encourage more people to visit the town.
Paul Wilson, who has been a sales adviser there for four years, and said Wyre should move the market they introduced on the prom to a pedestrian area on Victoria Road West.
He said: “When Vodafone and Tesco shut we noticed a huge drop in footfall.
“The internet is putting pressure on all shops, so we need people to use the ones we have.”
Vaughan Hamilton who also works at O2, said: “Bring in buskers and entertainment, market stalls on Victoria Road West, introduce longer parking for free or a smaller fee -let’s bring some life to the high street.”
However, some community members said they felt that more pessimistic opinions were not representative of the reality of the state of Cleveleys high street.
Jane Littlewood, who runs Cleveleys coastal community team, said everyone needs to work together to maintain the town.
She said: “Retail is changing, and rental prices are astronomical, but we are very fortunate in Cleveleys, it’s a lovely place to live.”
Coun David Walmsley, who represents Cleveleys’ Jubilee ward, agreed with Ms Littlewood.
He said: “We are concerned about empty shops, but Cleveleys is not a dying town.
“I’ve spoken to many people who have told me they have travelled from elsewhere to visit Cleveleys high street for the day- the furthest away I recall was Sutton Coldfield."
There are also shops located on Rossall Road, although one of the largest units will soon become vacant when Forsyth's home and interiors store closes.
Despite this, Darren Todd, who owns First response appliances on Rossall Road, said he feels Victoria Road West is hit the hardest when it comes to financial worries.
He said: "This block of shops is always quite busy, and I always try to shop locally.
"I feel that maybe the rates on Victoria Road West are unjustifiable and I think a lot more shops will move off that high street to smaller blocks of shops like the ones here on Rossall Road."
In response to these concerns, a spokesman for Wyre council said: “Business rates are set by the government and collected by the council.
“Small businesses can apply for small business rates relief if their business is worth less than £12,000 which gives them a 100% discount.
“The government recently announced a retail discount which equates to a third discounted on their rates bill.
“From August 5 2019, we introduced coach parking free of charge on Jubilee Gardens car park in Cleveleys.
“There are also dedicated spaces on the high street for coaches to drop off visitors, and we are working with coach companies to encourage them to visit the town.
“Free parking is available for Aldi customers in Cleveleys, and there are options to park all day in Cleveleys for just £3.50.
“We also offer residents parking permits which allows residents to park for up to two hours free of charge once per day in designated pay and display car parks.”
Lancashire county council were approached for comment about the pedestrianisation of Victoria Road West.
Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard called the high street the “beating heart of the community.”
He said: “The health of the high street in Cleveleys matters a great deal to local people.
“A thriving shopping area is vital to create jobs and provide shopping and leisure opportunities on the doorstep.
“When people shop locally they are supporting small businesses and they are helping reduce congestion and carbon emissions.
“I have made clear to Wyre Council my view that more needs to be done to support Cleveleys and that, at present, there is not a level playing field with other local towns.
“I have been working alongside local traders, making clear to local authority leaders and Ministers what our town and its businesses need to grow and succeed.
“I will continue to work with businesses in the town, fighting plans for on-street parking charges and making the case for investment in our community.”
In 2017, planning permission for a new retail space at the Norcross Retail site had been agreed by Wyre council- 20,000 sq ft of which has been earmarked for Marks and Spencer, adding another potential shop move to the list for Victoria Road West.