Will cracking down on out-of-town retailing save Blackpool town centre?

Empty shop units in Birley Street are symptomatic of parts of the resort
Empty shop units in Birley Street are symptomatic of parts of the resort

Out-of-town retail and leisure projects are set to run the gauntlet of tough new rules to stop them damaging Blackpool town centre.

Town leaders have agreed to put large scale applications under increased spotlight to determine what impact they would have on a “defined centre” – namely the town centre.

Richard Lefton

Richard Lefton

Coun Mark Smith, cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and economic development at Blackpool Council, said: “With respect to out of centre retailing the council has agreed, at the July 16 Executive, to the introduction of a local impact threshold whereby impact assessments will be required for retail and leisure proposals which are not located within a defined centre.

“This will be where proposals are over 500m2 gross; or where proposals are within 800m of a district or local centre this threshold will be 300m2 and 200m2 gross respectively.

“This has been introduced to assist in protecting the vitality and viability of our centres from out of centre proposals and is in line with National Planning Policy Framework.”

It comes as a new foodstore and bigger shop units were listed among the solutions to Blackpool’s high street woes in a new report.

Findings from the Blackpool Retail, Leisure and Hotel Study 2018, which will be used to form a blueprint to revive the resort’s retail offer, show Blackpool town centre attracts just under a third of all spending on goods such as clothes and electronics.

This adds up to £267m – but annual spending has dropped nine per cent since 2010. The market share is “considered relatively low” given the status of the town.

And while the Houndshill Centre is said to be performing well, the report warns “surrounding streets are struggling with significant issues relating to vacancies and poor quality stock, including Bank Hey Street and Church Street”.

Meanwhile many shoppers opt instead to visit one of Blackpool’s three edge-of-town retail parks (Blackpool Retail Park on Squires Gate Lane, Clifton Retail Park and Cherry Tree Retail Park in Marton) which attract nearly a fifth of residents’ spending on comparison goods, totalling annual spend of £173m.

However it says there is still demand for a new foodstore in the northern end of the town centre, but of a size which will not be detrimental to the Sainsbury’s store on Talbot Road.

Councillors agreed the findings which will now be part of a blueprint to shape the future of the town centre.

Key findings include:

- A need for another foodstore towards the northern edge of the town centre serving the area to the north of the centre and south of Bispham.

- Significant gaps in the retail offer with DIY and gardening, furniture, electrical and recreational goods missing. The chemist and beauty offer is also “well below the UK average.”

- More large, modern units needed in the centre as better space for national brands.

- Too many scruffy areas of the town centre.

- The council must control the expansion of edge-of-town retail.

- A review of larger council owned sites in the town centre to provide the scale of floorspace required.

- While Houndshill, Victoria Street and part of Bank Hey Street should remain primarily retail, most of Bank Hey Street and Church Street should be allowed to diversify into uses such as restaurants.

Many traders have complained in recent times the council is not doing enough to support them.

Richard Lefton, from Lefton’s Furniture Superstore in General Street, said: “There is too much emphasis on tourism to the detriment of retail in Blackpool. If only the council could put as much effort in to support the 12 month of the year retail sector. We need to do more to entice people in and to get the national stores to come, if that means discounts on council tax or rates then so be it.

“I have worked in the town centre for 30 years and I can tell you that now there is not one single street that looks nice to walk down.

“Some are intimidating – you feel you might get mugged.”

Charlie Docherty, chairman of the Central Blackpool Business Forum, said: “To attract investment, the town centre needs to be financially attractive but also visually attractive.

“We have had this lovely weather but the fountains in St John’s Square were not working, there is litter everywhere and there are homeless people on the benches.”

Council view

Coun Mark Smith, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Enterprise and Economic Development, said: “Like many towns, we are dealing with a very rapidly changing retail sector such as increased online shopping; increased popularity of out of centre retail parks; polarisation of the retail sectors in a smaller number of centres across the country and the demise of many high profile retailers.

“Because of this town centres are facing tremendous challenges but Blackpool town centre has many of the necessary ingredients to improve its attraction so we can strengthen our role as the sub-regional centre for the Fylde Coast as well as the UK’s most popular seaside resort.

“The consultants acknowledge in their report that many of the issues they raise are already highlighted in our Town Centre Strategy and Action Plan which we adopted in 2013 and the White Young Green Study report states that we have made substantial progress over the last five years with progressing key strategic sites within the town centre including the Sainsbury’s and council offices development at Bickerstaffe Square, Phase II of Talbot Gateway is underway as is the new conference facility at the Winter Gardens.

“Work has started on the former Yates’ site at Talbot Square for a new hotel and permission has been granted for a 5* hotel at the Sands venue.

We also have the exclusivity agreement on the Central Leisure Quarter which will hopefully be bringing forward an exciting new leisure complex to add to our unique attractions offer in the resort.”

“With respect to out of centre retailing the council has agreed, at the 16 July Executive, to the introduction of a local impact threshold whereby impact assessments will be required

for retail and leisure proposals which are not located within a defined centre.

This will be where proposals are over 500m2 gross; or where proposals are within 800m of a district or local centre this threshold will be 300m2 and 200m2 gross respectively.

This has been introduced to assist in protecting the vitality and viability of our centres from out of centre proposals and is in line with National Planning Policy Framework.”