Academic: “Empty shops should be used for leisure”

Prof Charles Dennis
Prof Charles Dennis

An academic says town centres such as Boston’s need to transform empty shops for leisure use - and warned new shops are unlikely to arrive here...

This is the assessment of Charles Dennis, Professor of Marketing and Retailing at the Lincoln Business School.

Professor Dennis, who is also associate editor for the retailing section of the European Journal of Marketing, said that if empty properties are not being used: “They need to be taken out of use in a structured way. And that’s the big, big problem and not just in Boston, it’s with every High Street.

“The amount of space required for retail is reducing quite fast and planners need to think of alternative uses for the space. Successful town centres are seeing a change more to the eating and drinking and the leisure offer,” he continued.

Of the Which? magazine consumers’ Top 100 High Street stores, Boston has less than half, with many being outside of the town centre.

But, writing in today’s Standard, borough council leader Peter Bedford said a survey for the authority showed the number of shops vacant in Boston is 13.6 per cent, slightly lower than the 13.9 per cent national average.

Prof Dennis suggested that given the access to data and sophisticated statistical and mapping tools national companies use, Boston is unlikely to be an attractive investment option at present.

He went on to warn against an over-reliance on retailing for economic regeneration: “Traditional retailing is at best stable or growing only very slightly, having declined for a few years. You can’t expect it to come to the rescue of declining town centres. If you can use space for leisure and for eating and drinking then you have got more potential”

There are also warnings for the potential impact of out-of-town developments, such as the proposed Quadrant development at Wyberton. Commenting on the proposals, he said: “That’s going to be a draw and obviously will impact on the town centre. It will have a negative impact. There’ll be a draw to the out-of-town site.”

Prof Dennis’s views have been echoed by Pescod Square manger, Andy Pottle. Mr Pottle said the town is at risk from changes in shopping habits and that Boston needs to develop its leisure offer to attract visitors. “We’ve relied too heavily on retailing to regenerate town centres,” he said.

He continued: “If you want to improve the tourist offer, you need to develop the things that make them want to stay. We have a town that has the potential to be something with its history and its culture. We just need to raise our game.”

Coun Bedford agreed that the town cannot solely rely on retail, saying it needs ‘destinations, not necessarily shops’.

The leader also stressed that a council survey shows that more people are actually visiting the town centre.

Coun Bedford revealed in today’s Standard that council figures put footfall in Boston up three per cent on last year, with figures 14 per cent about those of 2006 - 2009.

He stressed the council will consider the possible impact of the Quadrant on the town but said that it was ‘premature’ to make an ‘objective assessment’ before the planning application is lodged.