Top-rated town centre shop units lie empty

PUBLISHED: 09:00 16 September 2013

Weston High St.

Weston High St.

Archant

MORE than 30,000sq ft of prime 'A1-rated' retail space is currently empty in Weston town centre, with one unit having stood vacant since 2009.

A document released as part of a planning application for a new High Street café shows the extent of top-level store units currently going unfilled – worth £658,450 in rental value per annum.

The Hartnell Taylor Cook document, released in an application for a café in the High Street, outlines 14 empty A1 units, including nine in the High Street, three in the Sovereign Shopping Centre and one in Meadow Street, totalling 32,408sq ft.

The largest is the Topshop store, which is still available for let, comprising 8,274sq ft and commanding a £90,000 per annum rental price tag.

The unit vacant the longest is unit 26 in the Sovereign Shopping Centre, which has not been let since June 2009.

An accompanying letter also written by the planning consultancy states: “The economic downturn has seen increased vacancy rates, particularly in seaside resort towns such as Weston which rely on seasonal trade.

“This is evidenced by the vacancy rates in the town’s main shopping centre, The Sovereign Centre, where several large units within the scheme are occupied by temporary operators.”

Business leaders in the town have reacted to the figures, stressing that retail is struggling across the country and that Weston’s vacancy rates remain below the national average.

Sovereign Shopping Centre manager Nick Cooke said: “It’s obviously disappointing. I certainly don’t see it improving.

“I think retailers will continue to look at their property renewals. We need to be creative and look for alternative uses for the space.”

He added that because landlords have to pay business rates themselves on any stores left empty after three months, they would need to be more flexible on rents and usage.

He suggested libraries, visitor centres, cafés and independent stores could be viable alternatives to traditional retail options.

Business Improvement District (BID) chairman Paul Batts said: “A lot of it is down to landlords to create some enticement.

“The majority of it is down to national problems. There are few businesses looking to expand into other areas.

“It would be doing the town a disservice not to look at the number of shops that are filled.

“People appreciate that times are hard for High Street retail at the moment.

“There is no reason not to come to the town. A lot of places have swathes of empty shops. We don’t have that and Weston is doing better than a lot of other places.

“And the importance of local shops can never be overstated.”

Asked whether the level of empty retail space in the High Street could impact on Dolphin Square’s ability to attract retailers to any new development, he said: “Without knowing the firmer details, perhaps they haven’t been sharp enough with their deals.

“They might have had to pay Debenhams to go in there. If you had them, you would have two stores saying they want to go either side.

“I think they missed a trick by not securing a big name that people would want to go with.”

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