Retail fightback

PUBLISHED: 10:32 08 January 2009 | UPDATED: 13:51 06 May 2010

SIR, — Is there any opportunity in this retail crisis? Two letters (Herts Advertiser, January 1), while recognising the dire straits that retailers are currently in, made the point that now more than ever we should not simply be moaning and groaning but s

SIR, - Is there any opportunity in this retail crisis? Two letters (Herts Advertiser, January 1), while recognising the dire straits that retailers are currently in, made the point that now more than ever we should not simply be moaning and groaning but should all try and remain positive, however difficult this may seem to be. Turn these problems into opportunities if it is at all possible even though it is predicted that it is all going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

The vision for St Albans currently being worked on and hopefully to be extended to Harpenden, is the vehicle for this. Retailers need a viable, realistic and imaginative strategy for our city centre. Retailers were indeed suffering well before the credit crunch. Shopping on the internet is one of the main reasons. So why ignore it?

Websites have already been set up for St Albans by the Chamber of Commence and the district council. "Shop St Albans" will hopefully be followed by "Harpenden Shops". This is one way for retailers to promote their names and advertise the benefits of shopping in their own stores as well as in the whole city centre.

Why do women in particular prefer to go to Welwyn Garden City (e.g. John Lewis) rather than stay in Harpenden and St Albans? It's not just the range of goods. Research indicates the problems of car parking and traffic as genuine dislikes. Shopping should be a pleasurable experience. It is blatantly not here. Research again reveals that a typical average female weekday shopper would like to take around up to 2.5 hours - including maybe a visit to a much-needed coffee shop (planners please note). Yet in Harpenden on-street parking is strictly enforced at one hour only. "Get rid of the shoppers"!

Pedestrianisation? Experiments before in St Albans resulted in a dramatic fall in retail sales. That is not the answer. Pedestrian-friendly areas are however proving to be very successful all round the country. Did anyone note that in one of the busiest areas in London, Exhibition Road, close to the Albert Hall, street furniture was cleared away as an experiment. Drivers and pedestrians strangely mixed and the accident rate fell (Health and Safety planners please note).

Cycling to the centre? Who will balance all their groceries purchased on their bicycle and then cycle home in the rain?

Our city desperately needs the vision to come up with a clear strategy and not one of the piecemeal palliatives tried so often before that tried to please everyone. A Tesco development down London Road is definitely not the answer and could be a disaster for The Maltings and St Peters Street. It is far too far from the city centre and leaves a large undeveloped gap between St Peters Street and Tesco's development. It would also present massive traffic problems. In any case it is a one-stop shop and away experience.

Surely it cannot be beyond the realms of imagination to devise a long-term plan that really will improve the retail environment and make shopping pleasurable again. If we sit back and do nothing or if we try to satisfy every pressure group, we will see more and more shops closing. A viable shopping centre and a place where people can really enjoy going to, is so badly needed to bring vitality back to our centres

MICHAEL WEAVER,

Harpenden Town Councillor.

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