A change in tactics is needed to breathe life into Aldershot town centre, says councillors, as another big name retailer prepares to leave.
Next is the latest business to have confirmed it is departing the town to focus on larger out-of-town stores, such as the recently-opened superstore in the The Meadows, Camberley.
A spokesman for the fashion retailer said the doors of the Aldershot shop, in Union Street, will close when the lease expires towards the end of this year. He added that it was part of the business strategy to close stores that were ‘not performing as they wanted’.
Faced with yet another setback to its town centre offering in Aldershot, councillors and officers at Rushmoor Borough Council have discussed altering their aspirations in order to make it more successful.
David Quirk, the council’s director of community and environment, said discussions about what a modern day town centre should contain formed part of last week's town centre task and finish group meeting.
Although he stressed that talks were at an ‘embryonic stage’, he admitted that policies put in place in 2007 are likely to be adapted in response to recent changes in customer behaviour and the economic environment.
“Since 2007, we’ve certainly seen in society a few significant things, like the recession and the rise in internet shopping,” he said. “Some of the policies put down in 2007 maybe need to be looked at again.
“It’s true we’re developing our thoughts and when we’ve got these in shape, through discussions with members, then at some point in the near future we would want to build them into policy.”
Confirming that Next had informed the council of its intention to close, he said: “Every town centre across the country is changing. We’re seeing big retailers changing strategy.
“If you look at all the reports by people such as Mary Portas, they all point towards a reduction in the amount of retail in town centres. They point towards town centres being a mix of retail and other things.
“You can buy most things online but you can’t get your hair cut online or get your nails done.”
The council’s Activation Aldershot scheme is also aimed at boosting the town centre experience by making improvements for pedestrians.
A £4.5m investment is being made in creating better pedestrian links between the centre and homes being built to the north for Project Wellesley, via Hospital Hill, Middle Hill and Gun Hill, and Westgate.
Other improvements include grants to make shop fronts more attractive.
Thirdly, a bid is being prepared to local enterprise partnership Enterprise M3 to invest in key sites such as the area between Union Street and High Street.
Last August, the Burton and Dorothy Perkins shops, a few doors down from Next, closed, adding to Aldershot’s woes. The Galleries and Arcade shopping centres are plagued by empty shop units, although B&M Bargains has been announced as the new anchor retailer for the latter and will open within months.
There has been some relatively positive news for The Galleries, with not-for-profit social enterprise Tech Start soon to move into one of the units.
The initiative, a collaboration between the council, First Wessex, Future World of Work and Rushmoor Schools Plus, will sell refurbished computers for a low price and is aimed at improving employment prospects for the borough’s most deprived communities.