Revitatlising our Town and City Centres

charles fifield 2015

Cheshire West & Chester Council 19 July 2018: Item 9:

“To consider the following Notice of Motion, proposed by Councillor Charles Fifield and seconded by Councillor Michael Baynham.

This council believes ensuring the successful future of town & city centres requires us all to work together.

To respond to the structural shifts in retail and the now urgent need to reimagine our town & city centres, this council commits to re-establish the town and city centre working group that was originally established in 2013 and reported in 2014. This Council therefore asks West Cheshire Overview & Scrutiny to set up the working group. Its aim will be to review and update its report in light of ongoing changes in retailing in the U.K. and local concerns with the various masterplans for key centres within the borough. It will be a forum to hear evidence and ideas from local stakeholders, business leaders, councillors, development board members and representatives from those who live and work in the area.

The Working Group should have 5 members and arrange meetings across the borough (to a minimum of Chester, Ellesmere Port, Winsford, Northwich and rural and other key service centres if required). The opportunity will be to stimulate the widest possible debate around the question “what now and next” for each place before the working group reports back to the West Cheshire Overview & Scrutiny with recommendations that should be presented to Cabinet before purdah commences in 2019.

The background papers for the previous working group, can be found at Item 58 of the October 2014 Executive meeting.”

I am asking Council to resurrect the Working Group which I previously Chaired and in essence update the Report it produced in October 2014, looking at both an overview of issues affecting retailing as a whole, as well as reviewing the local masterplans.

I am a Chartered Surveyor, I have worked in Commercial Property for 25 years but you don’t need to be a professional in the Retailing Sector to know that retailing has been going through a period of unprecedented change over the past decade, initially dealing with the recession and economic recovery, but that recession compounded a fundamental shift that was already occurring.

Many people simply put this down to the rise of the Internet however this is a symptom of a wider concept which we have to take into account, the concept of “convenience” as shoppers favour the internet, retail parks and supermarkets to traditional high streets.

The change shows no sign of slowing down yet, online non-food retail sales have continued to grow from 11.6% of retail sales in December 2012 to 24.1% of retail sales in December 2017. Online clothing sales are currently at 20%, whilst the longer established example of Germany’s are at 25%.

If you’re a subscriber to Amazon, check your own order history, I order 3 times as much on there as I did 5 years ago and 20 times as much as I did a decade ago.

There is however benefit for even online retailers with bricks and mortar approach, “click and collect” is more profitable when dealing with returns, as there is no delivery charge for the retailer and 45% of online customers return at least 1 item per year.

As happened 5 years ago, there are also national reviews taking place, the Grimsey Review 2 has recently reported, the Government has recently appointed Sir John Timpson to Chair a Panel assessing the future of high streets. Just as we did in 2014, we would draw from these.

I feel that it is important to update the 2014 Report and that whilst there have been Local Member Working Groups established, these are somewhat in isolation and would benefit from an overview, because there will be common factors affecting them all and there may well be good ideas in 1 that would benefit another. There may be issues some have identified which others haven’t.

We also need to ensure that we have the benefit of interested parties, such as Mr Kenney who spoke earlier and passionately about Chester, because none of us know everything.
I think we would all agree the progress at Barons Quay has been slow, this is primarily due to the changes in UK retailing but I am sure with the benefit of hindsight it would be different if designed now so we must take this opportunity to ensure we are as sure as possible with future plans across our Borough – Northgate in Chester, Winsford Cross, Weaver Square in Northwich and Ellesmere Port.

The Working Group could be a vital check in this process, an overview and a check of each masterplan, the exercise should be far quicker than last time, if we can report before Purdah, with Cross-Party agreement then it should become something the new Council from May, whoever runs it, can draw from. I therefore recommend this to the Council.

(The Motion was defeated 33:36).

I am disappointed that Council did not support my Motion of resurrecting the Town & City Centre Working Group which I Chaired in 2013/14. UK Retailing has continued to change, there are local working groups but we need a Borough wide overview. It is a missed opportunity.

20 July 2018

Link to earlier information on this topic from 2013/2014.