Harrogate may still be a fabulously successful town but discussion about the state of the town centre in challenging times for the high street has been growing, writes GRAHAM CHALMERS. Now we’re giving you the chance to have your say.
What can be done to prevent the relentless march of internet shopping is just one of the questions being asked by the business community in Harrogate these days.
The fear is that changing consumer habits will eventually lead to a swathe of derelict town centres across the country.
How big this potential threat is to Harrogate, one of the north’s most affluent and successful towns, is a moot point.
The Harrogate Borough Council rejects any sense of pessimism about the future of the town’s retail sector or the town centre as a whole
In fact, it says the facts show the number of retail vacancies in Harrogate is not historically high.
Official figures show that the town’s vacancy rate for retail units in the town centre was 8.5 per cent in March of this year, compared to over 11 per cent nationwide.
Harrogate’s rate actually fell in the last quarter to 7.5 per cent.
But, as highlighted in recent months in a series of articles in the Harrogate Advertiser, the sight of more than 30 empty units in the town centre has set alarm bells ringing.
Confidence has also been hit by a steady drip of restaurant and shop closures this year in town, albeit that these have been, in the main, chains labouring under the national pressures of rents, rates and the minimum wage in an era of austerity and Brexit.
As if to dispel any danger of complacency, key business groups in Harrogate have been springing into action of late calling for change to safeguard Harrogate’s traditional prosperity.
Backed by Harrogate Borough Council, Visit Harrogate’s prime role is to market Harrogate as the perfect place to be - and to visit.
Visit Harrogate’s chief executive Richard Spencer is hopeful about the direction the town is heading overall but believes improvements to the town centre are vital.
Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce president Steve Scarre has added to the growing pressure, saying the time has come to do something about empty premises
Independent shops have been joining the debate, too.
All of this activity and discussion has lent a sense of urgency to the current Harrogate BID - a Business Improvement District which involves creating a defined area where business rate payers are charged a levy in addition to their business rates bill to pay for projects which will benefit businesses in the local area.
With support from Harrogate Borough Council, the BID team has spent several months consulting with local businesses on what they see a BID could do for Harrogate.
Among the ideas which have bubbled to the surface are holding more public events to make the town centre more appealing, capitalising more on the popularity of the town’s independent sector and improving the look of shop frontages.
But what do readers think? At the end of the day, it will be the public - and its spending power - who will decide the future.
To that end, the Harrogate Advertiser is asking you what you think about the town centre and what should be done to improve it in our new Town Centre Survey.
The aim of our survey is to give enable the public to have their say on positive ideas to improve Harrogate town centre.
To make your voice heard, simply fill in our survey form and send it to us by Friday, August 24.
The results will be published in this newspaper and your views will also be presented to Harrogate Borough Council, the BID team, Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce and Visit Harrogate.
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