Anxious calls by leading Harrogate businesses to improve the town centre for the benefit of the whole town have been backed by the chamber of commerce.
With concern over empty retail units growing, the Harrogate Advertiser talked to a number of owners of cafes, shops and galleries about what they wanted to see change for a better future.
Famous names like Sutcliffe Galleries and Ogden jewellers responded with positive ideas on everything from an annual street festival to better signage, park and ride and joining the Business Improvement District scheme.
The new president of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, Steve Scarre strongly echoed their sentiments, saying the time had come for real changes in challenging times for the high street.
He said: “I’m determined to get things done. We need action, not words. Harrogate has so many strengths but here’s lots of empty shops on the town centre. Internet shopping is the main problem but we need to be more creative in attracting people to the town.”
Appointed to the post earlier this month, the chamber of commerce president said everyone had to get involved in possible solutions - including private landlords.
There were a range of improvements that could be made, including the following:
Creating a dedicated entertainments space on Station Parade in front of Victoria shopping centre with much more regular events.
Tidying up and refurbishing shop frontages and offering empty units to individuals or groups at reasonable rents.
The creation of Harrogate’s first park and ride park to bring people into the town centre.
Using The Stray more for events with a purpose-built coach park to deal with visitors.
The chamber president believed that, fundamentally, turning Harrogate into a BID town was crucial to most of the changes to come. He said: “The chamber obviously supports the town gaining Business Improvement District status. If the BID is successful it could be a catalyst for a better future for Harrogate town centre.
“We want to attract more members to the chamber. We are keen to empathsise with all the town’s retailers, to find out what their worries are and to help them.”
One example of the town’s lack of joined-up thinking came with what he said was a poor performance at last weekend’s big royal event.
Steve said: “Why wasn’t there a big screen in the town centre at the weekend showing the royal wedding of Harry and Meghan?
“We need to be more proactive in how we attract people to the town centre and how the town centre looks.
“For example, the town’s Christmas lights just aren’t as attractive as in other towns.”
Businesses the Harrogate Advertiser talked to raised issues such as pay parking and lack of support for Harrogate’s independent sector.
Helen Sutcliffe of Sutcliffe Galleries, a member of the pioneering Montpellier Quarters Retailers Group, said: “The town centres’ two biggest competitors are the out of town shopping centres and the internet. The disc parking system worked well in Harrogate in the past, freeing up spaces.
“Now not only is parking expensive, but you have to guess how long you need - often we lose a potential sale as a client has to rush off to move his car.”
“Harrogate needs to look after the independents as they are one of the biggest draws for visitors, along with our wonderful gardens and The Stray.”
Robert Ogden, director of Ogden jewellers on James Street, said: “In my view, Harrogate gets nearly everything right but as a destination for out-of-town visitors I do feel it needs to improve its offer.”
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