Tuesday, April 20, 2021

News: The fragile state of Rotherham town centre

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The impact of the Covid pandemic has contributed to the levels of vacancies in Rotherham town centre rising above 30% - its highest rate in two decades.

With lockdowns and restrictions starting in March 2020, the plight of the High Street has been well documented. A number of national retailers with large, traditional bricks and mortar locations, have gone bust, snapped up by online retailers. Other chains have reduced the number of stores.

For Rotherham town centre, this trend of big names leaving has been occuring for a number of years and the largest stores closing during the pandemic have been at out of town retail parks such as Outfit (Topshop, Burton's etc.) at Parkgate Shopping.

Notable names leaving Rotherham town centre during lockdown include H Samuel and Timpsons but it does have a larger percentage of essential retail stores, such as Tesco, Home Bargains and B&M that have remained open throughout much of the last year, along with Rotherham markets and a number of independent outlets.

Rotherham was highlighted by experts as being resilient and had the shift to this type of retail not already happened, when the traditional names began moving to Meadowhall and Parkgate, the situation for Rotherham town centre could have been even worse.

The make up of traders in the town centre is split 41% independent and 28% as "multiples" with the rest vacant.

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Rotherham Council figures show that vacancy rates in Rotherham before the pandemic were around 25% for September 2019. It had been hovering between 20% and 27% for four years although changes to the way figures were collected were made in 2018.

The vacancy rate for September 2020 in Rotherham town centre was 31%.

According to the Local Data Company, in the fourth quarter of 2020, the overall GB vacancy rate increased to 13.7%.

The footfall figures, obtained by a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, show a stark drop in the number of people using the town centre. Before Covid restrictions, footfall for Effingham Street was counted at 227,157 in March 2020. For April 2020 this was more than halved to 109,317.

Footfall has risen but the 202,316 figure for September 2020 is much less than the 295,093 recorded in the same month in the previous year.

Yearly footfall figures for Rotherham town centre have been declining since 2012. From just over 26 million in that year, reducing by a massive 10 million to 16 million in 2019, even before the pandemic.

Rotherham Council's response to vacancy rates in the short term is to knock down buildings like the former Primark and create open green space. As part of the Town Centre Masterplan, the approach is to shrink the amount of retail footprint.

Longer term, the masterplan made clear that retail is not the answer as the focus shifts to other town centre uses such as leisure and housing.

At Forge Island, a £40m leisure-led development including a cinema and hotel, public sector investment has been used in order to acquire the land, establish a development partnership with Muse and deliver flood defence infrastructure.

Much of the data is being used to show why a propsed new leisure development at Meadowhall would adversly affect Rotherham town centre.

Ryan Shepherd, senior planning officer at Rotherham Council has written again to Sheffield Council to clarify his authority's stance as it prepares to object to plans for a revised scheme at Meadowhall.

Shepherd said: "Some vacancy is important for town centres, to provide flexibility for business. However, levels in Rotherham town centre are well above that which would provide for an adequate level of churn.

"The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly contributed to the significant increase in vacancy rates during 2020; however from 2013 onwards the vacancy rate has consistently remained at over 20%, with the overall trend observed being an upward increase in vacancy.

"Monitoring data shows that the town centre remains fragile. It is recognised that significant public sector investment is taking place to drive improvements in the town centre; particularly focused on increasing the levels of town centre living, improving the environment and public realm and delivering new development on Forge island.

"However, such interventions remain susceptible to market changes and their positive impacts will only be fully realised in the medium to long term given the lead in time for developments."

Images: Allsops / RMBC

7 comments:

Sheffield 100 April 20, 2021 at 10:00 PM  

Yet again address the problems with the type of people we encounter when trying to shop in rotherham! The drunks and drug addicts are frightening the people therefore they shop somewhere they feel safe .yet again this will not be posted because it is the truth and the rotherham council take our money and do nothing

Sheffield 100 April 20, 2021 at 10:01 PM  

Again no point in putting a comment!

Sheffield 100 April 20, 2021 at 10:02 PM  

Get rid of the drunks and drug addicts. We might start shopping in rotherham

Unknown April 21, 2021 at 12:43 PM  

I don't feel safe in Rotherham last time was stabbed in the day time you hear of stabbings and shootings at night

Unknown April 21, 2021 at 12:49 PM  

Spot on 100% agree. Its nor covid I'm frightened of in Rotherham, its the drunks and junkies

Anonymous,  April 21, 2021 at 4:36 PM  

The council has the right approach in looking to reduce the number of retail units in the town center and replacing these with housing or leisure. There is some anti social behavior in the town center (as there is in most town centers) however this is not the main factor in the retail decline. Shopping habits have shifted long ago to out of town retail parks and shopping centers, even before the advent of online shopping.

Unknown April 22, 2021 at 5:55 PM  

It's nowt to do with covid . It's more to do with drunks,and druggies,but Rotherham council don't care about how we Rotherham folk feel about it, because they don't want to do owt about it
It's not worth going into Rotherham anymore because I for one can't feel safe enough to go there on my mobility scooter . Rotherham used to be great for shopping, but not now.

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