Roger Hutchings tells the BBC’s Paul Stainton that there is plenty of activity at the Centre, with old tenants leaving and new ones arriving. Broadcast at 07:11 on Thursday July 22nd. 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
PAUL: Now we’re going to talk about the state of Peterborough’s High Street this morning. Karl from Dogsthorpe rang in yesterday to complain about the amount of empty shops in Peterborough. (TAPE)
KARL: I was down in Bridge Street doing some shopping over the weekend. And I noticed that obviously Woolworths has still not been taken, and the Limon Cafe has still not been taken. And I noticed that Deaversons Jewellers (INAUDIBLE). We seem to have no problem in bringing people like Stobarts who want to bring a depot to Peterborough. And obviously IKEA and Debenhams have also got depots here. We have no problems in bringing those here, but we seem to have a problem bringing people to fill the retail units in the city centre. (LIVE)
PAUL: That’s Karl from Dogsthorpe. So I went to have a walk round Peterborough yesterday, and I went through Queensgate and I counted twelve empty shops in Queensgate. I don’t remember it being that bad before. But apparently it’s not all bad news. Roger Hutchings is the mnager at Queensgate. Morning.
ROGER: Good morning to you.
PAUL: Am I right? There were twelve empty shops in Queensgate yesterday?
ROGER: I am sure in your walk I wouldn’t dispute your twelve empty shops, but I think to stop the conversation there would be only half the story. As people are probably aware we’ve recently announced three new stores have taken space in Queensgate. One of those stores is taking two units, that’s Cult Retail. Pandora recently opened and Virgin Media are fitting out. And of the remainder, we’ve got serious discussions which hopefully we’ll be making some announcements on within the next few weeks, for three of the other units. So that brings us back to six. I think we can talk numbers as specific units, and clearly none of us want to have many empty shops. But hearing your listener’s conversation there I can understand his concerns. Certainly Queensgate has no wish to have empty shops, but I think if we look at what’s happening around us now, there are very encouraging signs. I’ve mentioned those three names. We hope to add some more in the near future. And sometimes there are bigger situations in play, and big discussions taking place. So yes it’s frustrating to see empty shops, but yes also let’s concentrate a little bit on the positives as well. There’s a lot happening in Peterborough in terms of employment. There’s a lot happening in terms of Cathedral Square and the investment that’s going on there. And people have differing opinions. But we mustn’t always look at the bottle being half empty. There’s a lot of good news there, and we must build on that that’s taking place.
PAUL: Yes. Is it as bad as it’s ever going to get? Are we on the way up now? Is that the low point?
ROGER: That would certainly be my take. No-one knows, do they, what exactly the future holds. But given the interest that there is, given the new names that recently signed, given the interests that we know we’re working with in the background at the moment, then certainly one would hope that we’re coming off the bottom, we’re off the bottom, and we’re very much going in the right direction.
PAUL: Because we’ve been told that a couple of other stores are perhaps pulling out of Queensgate. The Halifax Building Society, and two or three people have rung in to say that they’ve heard Argos are coming out of Queensgate.
ROGER: Well certainly as far as the Halifax is concerned yes indeed the Halifax have written to their customers advising that they are closing that branch. But when one looks at the rationalisation that possibly is in play with the Halifax, with literally another branch only a few yards from them on the Long Causeway, perhaps that’s not entirely surprising. As far as Argos I really have no comment to make on Argos at all, and I think that’s pure speculation actually.
PAUL: Yes. And are you hopeful you can attract, as Karl was saying there, a better class of retailer and improve the offer? Because we’re going to hear from a jewellery shop in an hour or so on Bridge Street who say a lot of their customers are going to Cambridge.
ROGER: Well I think if we look back over the recent years there was a time when the Grand Arcade and everything was being developed at Cambridge and people were coming into Peterborough. And surely the Cambridge offer has improved in recent years. But I think also let us not always take the negative view. Recently Pandora’s opened in Queensgate. That’s a national name. Cult Retail very much an up and coming, Superdry and various brands, very much up and coming and now a national playing retailer of some significance. So yes there always will be competition. But to come back to your point I certainly feel at the present time the future, and I genuinely feel that from having been now at Queensgate for six years, I feel more optimistic about the lettings that are coming through, and the new names that are coming through. And then it’s up to us, both as Queensgate and as a city, to ensure that we create the environment and the place that people wish to visit.
PAUL: Is it getting easier to attract the bigger retailers?
ROGER: I think easier is probably not necessarily the word I would choose. But the interest is there, of that there is no doubt. There is interest from retailers to take space. And that is very encouraging. And certainly we’re not where we were probably a couple of years ago in terms of the general pervading feeling there was, and how the economy looked. We’re a long way from that. I’m not suggesting it’s a bed of roses by any means, but certainly the future looks very much brighter this time.
PAUL: Yes. You mentioned Pandora, you mentioned Cult Clothing, and some of the high-class retailers. What is attracting them to Peterborough? Why do they want to come here?
ROGER: Well I think there are several reasons. That brings us back to why business wants to come to Peterborough as well. It does represent a place where there’s disposable income. There’s people, a good and growing population. It’s a city that’s got strong growth aspirations. So if you’re a retailer looking to take space then you will look to a destination that has got a growing population, that’s got a population that is able, with disposable income, to spend. And it’s got to be a destination that’s attractive to our public. And I think sometimes in Peterborough we’re very keen, and understandably, to look at the reasons why people shouldn’t come, rather than looking at the reasons why they should come. And the work that’s taken place in our city centre, we’ve got a fabulous cathedral, there’s a lot of good things about Peterborough. And that’s really where we’ve got to make the focus if we want to attract, not only new shops, but people to invest and make their business with us.
PAUL: I noticed yesterday as well on the good news side of things, I had a wander down Westgate Arcade as well, which was particularly empty about six or seven months ago. What have you done there? Because that’s really filled up.
ROGER: Exactly. And I think we’ve actively pursued and attracted people to come there. Again there’s clearly still further work to do. Westgate is a demonstration of some of the successes taking place. And those new names for Queensgate as well are very much taking us in the right direction.
PAUL: Roger, confident for the future?
PAUL: That’s all you can say, isn’t it? It’s definitive. Roger Hutchings from Queensgate in Peterborough.