Primark could ‘completely change the outlook’ for Weston High Street’s future

The vacant BHS unit in the High Street.

The vacant BHS unit in the High Street. - Credit: Archant

For years there have been calls for high street fashion giants Primark to open for business in Weston, but shopaholics here still have to traipse up to Bristol or run the M5 gauntlet to Taunton to get their hands on the latest trends.

The Dolphin Square development.

The Dolphin Square development. - Credit: Archant

Reporter Sam Frost investigates why Primark is yet to satisfy the overwhelming desire of Weston’s shoppers, and the likelihood of one day seeing those famous brown paper bags on Weston High Street.

Survey

The British retail market is competitive, packed with variety and choice, yet a Mercury survey saw more than two thirds (69 per cent) of Weston shoppers pick Primark off the shelf as the retailer they most want on their High Street.

The vacant TJ Hughes building.

The vacant TJ Hughes building. - Credit: Archant

Given this was an open survey, where respondents were not presented with a list of brands and had to input the retailer they wanted in Weston, it indicates the overwhelming brand resonance Primark has among Weston’s shoppers.


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But is Primark listening to us?

Primark remains coy

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The Mercury has approached Primark on a number of occasions about the possibility of coming to Weston. We have repeatedly been met with a standard reply.

“We appreciate your interest but Primark would not normally comment on store speculation,” a spokesman said each time.

Why are we being left out?

A glance at Primark’s store map may leave Weston’s shoppers feeling a little hard done by. The clothing giant has a string of South West stores based in cities, towns and seaside resorts, but Weston is missing out on what Primark has to offer.

Primark operates stores in South West towns like Barnstaple, Taunton, Torquay and Yeovil, all of which have smaller populations than Weston, and few can even get close to North Somerset’s eight million tourist visitors each year.

Weston boasts a population of 88,350 according to the 2011 census, and North Somerset Council suggests that figure is set to grow to 108,000 by 2024, meaning Weston’s population would exceed that of the city of Bath.

An influx of fashion-conscious university students is expected in the coming years too, thanks to the expansion of Weston College.

So why has Primark not capitalised on the market in our town? It is possible the company fears a new store in Weston could detrimentally impact on sales in nearby Bristol and Taunton, with fewer shoppers needing to travel to shop.

Questions have been raised about the suitability of sites Primark could occupy in Weston, too. The leading contenders are the vacant units once filled by BHS and TJ Hughes, but reports query whether these sites fit Primark’s criteria.

Primark is also thought to have rejected the opportunity to take on a bespoke unit at the new Dolphin Square complex after developers McLaren Life courted retailers for the development.

The Primark effect?

What does Primark do for other towns and cities in the South West? We spoke to town centre managers from across the region.

Bath’s Business Improvement District chief executive Louise Prynne said: “Primark has certainly become well-established in Bath since it opened its doors in 2014. That can be seen by the number of Primark bags being carried around by shoppers.

“Primark has certainly enriched the city’s retail offer and complemented the other stores.

“There is an appetite for the value Primark offers, especially with the city’s large student population.

“Primark is providing great value for shoppers in Bath, complementing the rich and varied retail offer of the city.”

Love Yeovil chairman David Mills believes Primark drives people to the town centre.

He said: “Primark has been a key feature of Yeovil town centre for many years and although we have other great retailers like H&M, Beales and Marks & Spencer, Primark remains an immensely popular brand with shoppers and helps drive substantial footfall to the town.

“Primark is a an important part of the retail offer any town or city can have”

What do our town centre bosses have to say?

In August, town centre manager Steve Townsend said Weston was the ‘ideal’ place for Primark, while chairman of Weston Business Improvement District committee Paul Batts thinks Primark and the town are missing out.

Mr Batts said: “I think they’re missing a trick when they can afford to have shops in Taunton, Yeovil and Barnstaple, who’ve all got a lot less population than we have – and don’t get eight million visitors a year.

“Weston’s a very high-profile place nowadays, it’s really on the up with all the urban redevelopment.

“With the Tropicana being used, Dolphin Square coming out of the ground and the whole college development – there’s definitely a good vibe about Weston.

“Primark coming might be the kick start to other retailers thinking about coming here.

“If there’s a retailer that comes to the town that brings extra people – and I don’t think anyone could argue against the fact that if Primark was in the town centre it would bring more people in – other shops would benefit as a sideline of that.

“The Sovereign Shopping Centre would see more visitors and other businesses would see a slice of that cake.

“It makes so much sense from the locals’ and visitors’ point of view; Primark is the one name we constantly hear. It could completely change the outlook of the High Street.”

n It is clear Weston wants Primark, and the consensus is it will benefit the town. Whether they are listening now, if Weston keeps shouting about it loudly enough, Primark may sit up and take notice.

Tell us what you think. Email your thoughts to newsdesk@westonmercury.co.uk

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