Thursday, 28 July 2011

Medway council failing local business?

Local news has recently been concentrating on traders suffering in Chatham High Street and one has to ask; Has Medway council failed the commercial areas or is this a blip on the radar that will sort itself out soon. Or as asked in is this a slide away from traditional forms of shopping and moving online?

Last week's Medway News ran with the story that Chatham High street is being strangled by the never ending roadworks.
Businesses have already begun making redundancies, cutting hours and some are on the brink of closure. Guy Varley (of Varley's electrical store) says their business is down by 70%!
The council's regeneration scheme is being blamed with Ms Humphries of Internacionale being quoted as;

We were led to believe it (Road works and diversions) would be finished by Easter, now it's looking like the end of the year.

Other observers are pointing to less people buying or shopping and just hanging around- though I suspect that is because people no longer have the money for disposable goods. I myself haven't bought an X-box game in months, only one book in July and no Games workshop in god knows...
Incentives like free parking or buses to get people into the town are good ideas but only help a little bit, it is also a drain on the Public purse as the council have to subsidise the bus companies.

Medway council have, however, assured the people of Medway that the new bus station will bring about great change for Central Medway and will open at the end of the summer and;

Will be easier and more welcoming for shoppers
The also told the Medway News that they are working on ideas such as free parking and promotional campaigns that will encourage shoppers back into Chatham and are working closely with the Retailers to do this.
The new bus station will also rejuvenate the riverside area and has already had a positive affect on shops in the area - what it has definitely done though is shift the locus of trade another twenty feet towards Rochester and will probably hit the trade at the east end of town fairly hard - It is already fairly dead beyond the Trafalgar centre but now it is even further to walk! Other shops on the second floor of the Pentagon will also be hit. D and A toys would make quite a lot of money from parents taking their kids to the bus stops and either rewarding them for good behaviour or to silence them by buying a toy.

 I am starting to believe that lowering VAT would be a good move, I know that most of the cost is absorbed by the vendor and won't be passed to the consumer but it will mean small business will be given a respite. Although this is well out of reach for Medway Council to address.

Medway Labour have also come up with some other suggestions;

Using empty shops for community workshops and learning groups is a great idea however... where is the money for it coming from?Rent needs to be paid and as the council is fueling a £15 million reduction over 4 years money is at a premium. Also if a shop remains empty for long enough the landlord will lower the rent allowing a small start up business to afford the rent. Sounds good on the surface but on closer inspection falls flat.

Place a "Competition test" which would encourage commerce to compete and keep the prices low and competitive. As a Lib Dem and working class I think this is great. More shops will fill our high streets and allow the consumer choice. So thumbs up on this one.

The Retail advice clause scheme is again shiny on the surface but I think would fall flat on use. Yes communities and other retailers should have consultation rights and a say in what retail decisions are made and I'm sure other Lib Dems would agree BUT... Do people really care? We can't get enough of the populous to vote, turn up to council meetings let alone make themselves available to consult and you'd only get those who were Dead against a project turning up.

The modern shopper no longer has time to hit the high streets and shops. After long hours at work they want to spend time with their families, especially now, often, both parents work around child care and haven't got the time to go out shopping.
If there is to be a family shopping trip people don't mind driving out to Blue water or even Maidstone to do their shopping. In Blue water you can park inside, do your shopping, catch a movie, take the kids to the adventure playground, have dinner.... all under one roof (except the playground!) and the level of choice is MUCH better than a town centre.
This coupled with big company's able to undercut the small retailer, who still has to pay massive overheads on utilities and rent. The future for shopping, especially for small companies, in my opinion is definitely the Internet... Small ware house, few staff and overheads, more profit.

Despite the current hardships and the definite impact this elongated campaign of road works in Chatham we have to hope that the council is right and that the new bus station will encourage more shoppers and breathe life back into the heart of Medway. This economic down turn may also be caused by the current economic climate and the simple fact that we just don't have any money and no amount of new bus stations will help. We seem stuck between Conservative assurances that everything will be ok and to trust them their plans for the future or take faith in Labour's well meaning but flawed proposals.
Only time will tell.
If not.... Hello Bluewater and Maidstone.
In other news another Charity shop has opened in Gillingham high street.

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