Harpenden shoppers want department store

Survey shows visitors to Harpenden want fewer chain stores

HARPENDEN shoppers want a department store, cheap clothes shops and fewer chain outlets according to a Herts Advertiser survey.

Results of the survey, held at last month’s Harpenden Highland Gathering, have been welcomed by both the Harpenden Retail Partnership and the town mayor, Cllr Michael Weaver. He commended it as an “important first step” in consulting the public on local shopping needs, with more investigation needed to expand the findings.

The research into shopping on Harpenden’s High Street has found that a whopping 60 per cent of respondents travel to the town by car, compared to just five per cent who cycle.

About a third of the 239 people participating in the survey said they walked to town.

When asked about additional types of stores they would like to see in Harpenden, respondents called for the introduction of department shops such as John Lewis or Debenhams, independent greengrocers, independent butchers, cheap clothes stores for women and children and fewer chain outlets, including coffee shops.

More than one third stay for about two hours, compared to 14 per cent who remain for less than an hour.

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About 26 per cent rated Harpenden shops as good while nearly 40 per cent regarded them as adequate and two per cent said they were excellent.

Nearly 45 per cent do their non-food shopping in St Albans, 22 per cent go to Welwyn Garden City, while the remainder visit Harpenden or Luton.

When asked why they came to Harpenden’s town centre, just over half of participants shopped for food and about 40 per cent dined out or visit a pub.

About 20 per cent visit the town two to three times a week compared to 12 per cent going just once a week.

Cllr Weaver said: “There were a number of interesting points. It was interesting to note how long people stay, mostly around two hours, which to me means we are right to push for free two-hour parking.”

He said it also hinted at what type of shops local people wanted in Harpenden.

Noting the call for more independent stores, Cllr Weaver said it was unlikely John Lewis would come to Harpenden. He also said that while there was the perception that there were too many coffee shops, that was not the case.

He added: “We don’t want to become a closed town. It’s about bringing the businesses into the town, it’s supply and demand.”

Keith Lunn, chairman of the Harpenden Retail Partnership which posed questions for the survey, said: “The response was really good. It supports what we are trying to achieve on the parking front.

“It’s also pro-independent stores so it really reinforces what we think about what we want in Harpenden.”

He echoed Cllr Weaver’s comments that John Lewis was unlikely to open on the High Street, and that it was important to keep a variety of independent shops to offer visitors a, “more interesting shopping experience.”

Mr Lunn was not surprised that car was the preferred mode of transport and said that if there were more secure bicycle racks in town, that might encourage greener travel

He said: “It’s not practical to expect people to cycle with bags of shopping on their backs.”

Retailers who attended a recent Harpenden Retail Partnership meeting have been sent a car parking petition to present to customers. The petition, written by the partnership, says that the cost of parking in the town has risen dramatically over the past eight years and that it is significantly more expensive to park there than in many other similar-sized towns.

The partnership wants St Albans district council to resolve the issue when the NCP contract for public car parks in the town is renewed in 2014. It suggests the council should either significantly reduce short-term parking costs or make the first hour of parking free.