Harrogate’s MP has revealed the fascinating results of the biggest-ever inquiry into the state of Harrogate town centre which throws the challenges facing the sector into stark focus.
As readers of the Harrogate Advertiser continue to get in touch with the paper over its State of Harrogate campaign, the survey initiated by MP Andrew Jones is timed perfectly to bring concrete figures on the public’s current views on the town centre and its results may point to where Harrogate will go in future.
But Mr Jones says he is surprised and worried by some of the results from the 10,000 Harrogate people surveyed at random.
The figure that is striking alarm, in particular, is that 40 per cent of Harrogate people now do half or more of their shopping online.
The Harrogate and Knaresborough MP said: “A total of 2,800 responses is an enormous amount and statistically gives a fair representation of local peoples’ views on the state of retail in Harrogate.
“The stand-out result though is surely the fact that over 40 per cent of people do half or more of their shopping online. This is a huge challenge for traditional retail.”
Harrogate Retail Inquiry: Key results from public
Forty-one per cent of respondent do half or more of their shopping online.
More than 60 per cent of respondents would recommend shopping in Harrogate to a friend.
The majority (60 per cent) of residents shop in Harrogate because it is close to home.
Most people use their cars to get in to Harrogate and two-thirds of them found it easy to find a parking space.
Nearly three-quarters of those who had a view about cycling facilities in the town centre felt they were poor or very poor.
When asked what one thing they would change about Harrogate the most popular choice was a wider range of shops and fewer empty shops.
Having conducted a similar survey in Knaresborough 18 months ago, which received more than 2,500 responses, where the figure was a quarter for people who shopped online for at least half of their purchases, the trend towards e-commerce is strengthening.
Having conducted his survey of Harrogate people’s views on the town centre earlier in the summer when concern over rough sleepers and street beggars was at its peak, the results also contain some positive news.
Only ten per cent of respondents felt that Harrogate’s cleanliness was poor while 92 per cent felt that the appearance of local shops was average or better than average.
Even more significantly, 55 per cent of respondents said they were fairly or very satisfied with Harrogate town centre at the moment.
While a substantial amount of independent traders in Harrogate are campaigning for the introduction of more free parking in the town centre, public support for such calls is far from over-whelming in the MPs survey.
Over half of all respondents (52 per cent) thought that parking charges in Harrogate are just right or too cheap.
Only six per cent thought cheaper parking was a priority.
Mr Jones said: “The results show that the solution is not as simple as just doing one thing to fill empty shops and tempt people back in to the town centre. It is a very complex picture and I will work with traders groups, landlords and local councils to address those factors.”
Although the sight of empty shop and cafe units in the town centre is undermining confidence in Harrogate’s retail offer, its the range and type of shops which appears to worry shoppers in Harrogate most.
As was also confirmed in the Harrogate Advertiser’s Town Centre Survey in 2018, residents feel the range of clothes shops is a problem.
When asked what one thing they would change about Harrogate, the most popular choice was a wider range of shops and fewer empty shops.
Mr Jones says he is keen to take the lessons of the survey to encourage real action to improve prospects for the future prosperity of Harrogate town centre.
The results also reveal how the good intentions of local authorities to make changes for the good of the town are yet to be achieved on the ground.
It also highlights a poor opinion of the town’s cycling facilities and infrastructure.
Harrogate Borough Council, which has mooted the idea of extending pedestrianisation in the town centre, will find comfort in one of the results. Almost 50 per cent of respondents backed more pedestrianisation in the town with 25 per cent opposed.
Mr Jones now intends to take forward discussions with key town centre groups such as the Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID), Independent Harrogate and the Harrogate District Chamber of Trade and Commerce.
And the MP says he will also be talking to Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council.
Mr Jones said: “Now I want to take forward the challenges raised by this survey and build on the many positive aspects raised by local people.
“There are areas where I want to go back to respondents, particularly over cycling provision and the reasons why so many people now prefer to do their shopping online rather than on the high street.”