Peterborough City Centre – Halting The Retail Decline

pawnbroker07:20 Thursday 23rd January 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: Peterborough’s MP Stewart Jackson is stepping up his campaign to stop any more bookmakers opening up in the city centre. It’s not just the bookies he wants to block. Pawnbrokers and payday loan shops are also on the list. Mr Jackson’s campaign comes after we revealed in August that there were nearly 100 betting shops in the county, and one bookmaker had five outlets in the centre of Peterborough alone. And in fact, if you go down Broadway, most people nickname it bookie alley. Well Stewart Jackson is on the line now. Stewart, morning.
STEWART JACKSON: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: This is something you’ve been campaigning about for a good few months now. Are you getting anywhere?

STEWART JACKSON: Well what I’ve done this week is to write to Peterborough City Council, and to ask them to consider a public consultation on something called Article 4 under the Town and Country Planning Act, which is effectively to close a planning loophole which regards betting shops and pawnbrokers as very similar to say building societies and banks. And what the big companies like Ladbrokes and William Hill and others have done is to exploit that loophole by putting in a lot of betting shops in the city centre using that legislation. And what this would do would be to bring about a situation where those betting shops were considered on their own merits, and you could look at the cumulative impact of all these betting shops. I’ve got 21 betting shops in my constituency, and I’ve actually got 82 of these very what some people would say are addictive gaming machines, B2 machines, in my small urban constituency. And I think that’s too much, enough is enough, and we need to restore the integrity and the attractiveness of the city centre.
PAUL STAINTON: The trouble is if you took away some of those bookmakers, some of those pawnbrokers, the payday loan shops, you’d have a city centre half empty.
STEWART JACKSON: Well what I’m saying is that we shouldn’t start closing the shops that are already there. I accept that they are people’s livelihoods.
STEWART JACKSON: And jobs. And there’s a market for betting shops in city centres. I fail to see why we need 21 betting shops in a really reasonably small area in the centre of Peterborough. And what I’m saying is that we’ve reached the limit, and we shouldn’t have any more, not least because one of the big debates we’ve had in Peterborough over the last few months, with the closure of Reba Boutique, is how do we support and enhance the provision of independent retailers in the city centre. We do of course want big chains like Primark that drive footfall and get more people into the city. But how do we support these niche retailers, which are dying out in some …
PAUL STAINTON: Well it’s no wonder is it, some of the rents, eighty, a hundred thousand pounds. The rates are astronomical. It’s almost impossible to open as an independent in Peterborough city centre, or probably any city centre.
STEWART JACKSON: Well you’ve put your finger on the nub of the issue Paul. Rents are an issue, and the City Council, where they are letting out properties in the city centre, should be mindful of that. I know they’ve got their own financial difficulties.
PAUL STAINTON: Well they spent all that money on Cowgate in Peterborough, and yet many of the shops remain empty, because the rents remain high.
PAUL STAINTON: I think you’re absolutely right that landlords and the City Council should be looking at rents. They also need to be doing all they can to support local retailers, independent retailers that don’t have a lot of money behind them like John Lewis or Primark, the big boys.
PAUL STAINTON: The Council would say though that they did help Reba quite a lot to stay in business.
STEWART JACKSON: Yes I’m not criticising the City Council. I do think they did try, and Reba really were up against it for a number of years.
PAUL STAINTON: Do you think independent shops ought to have some sort of special dispensation, the way that charity shops do?
STEWART JACKSON: Well part of what I’m doing is to say we’ve had enough of betting shops. We want to bring back a more pleasant ambience to the city centre. And part of that is independent shops. One of the things that needs to be looked at desperately I think in Peterborough and other centres is the parking charges, and whether it’s appropriate to drop or reduce parking charges on say one day or one night a week. And also one of the other problems that the lady in Reba did identify was the mistake that was made in opening the Brotherhood Retail Park, which I accept was necessary, but perhaps not at that location. because that undermined the viability of independent retailers in the city centre. I think the City Council learned its lesson. That was a genuine mistake in doing that, and there was a legal wrangle over that.
PAUL STAINTON: You see we think that there are not many independent outlets in Peterborough, but if you look at the Peterborough Telegraph today research carried out says 40% of retail units in Peterborough are currently run by independents, which I found amazing, surprising.
STEWART JACKSON: I did. I’m not going to over-egg the pudding here. I think we’re in a much better and stronger state than many towns. You go to a town like say Northampton, which is in a much worse position than say Peterborough is. And I was very pleased to learn that in that report, I think it was Barker Storey Matthews that did the analysis of retail in Peterborough, that only about 9% of units in Peterborough are empty, and some of those are under offer. So given what we’ve been through the last four of five years with the recession, I think that’s excellent. But what I’m saying with this initiative is let’s do everything we can to get pleasant attractive independent retailers into the city centre. And the first thing we could do is have a proper policy to say enough betting shops. We will use the legislation to try and rebalance the city centre, to make it more attractive.