Be realistic over retail

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Stones Drive Ripponden

Despite assurances given by the Council last year that the Central Library would remain where it is, Renaissance Officers of the Council are still suggesting the possible demolition of the Library, Northgate House and the area of the Post Office Sorting Office for retail development, despite having had no interest from retailers for the Broad street project.

Before we come face-to-face with a great open space in the centre of town with a hefty tax bill for new council offices and library, a more realistic assessment of the retail certainties is called for.

I am indebted to recent Times newspaper authorities for the following observations: "Few retailers are optimistic for the immediate future, with public sector job losses" (perhaps even the Renaissance team] "and higher inflation eating away at disposable income.

The number of empty stores in town centres has been creeping up for years, a trend hastened by the recession. One in three (former) Woolworth stores lying empty suggests that growing obsolescence on the high street is a pattern."

The CB Richard Ellis retail consultancy reported that, "there has been a sea change in how people shop... spending more time and money in retail hubs like Manchester and Meadowhall to the detriment of smaller towns and secondary locations (where) pound shops, charity shops, pawn brokers and discount supermarkets are increasingly dominant" and with a rise in shop vacancies. Their research found that, "retailers were increasingly favouring large flagship stores and 90 such stores could achieve the same market share as 200 in 1971."

Mothercare and HMV have issued profit warnings and some Waterstones bookshops may have to close. The Times commentators ask, "How will we be shopping in 5 or 10 years time?" and forecast that, "The vision may be unpleasant for some." "A third of Argos sales are now click and collect."

This Christmas, "on line players did better than their high street counterparts." On line retailer's sales rose 18 per cent. At John Lewis on line sales rose 45 per cent year on year. But it was supermarkets with their enlarging stocks of non-food items such as electrical goods and clothing that hit the Christmas bonanza.

What are the chances that Halifax can buck this trend?

Equally alarmingly, at the launch of the new consultation at the Shay the Woolshops Manager said that Calderdale was too dependant on small retail businesses. I hope this is not the view of Councillors. It is small businesses we look to for the best local services.

And they don't pull out when facing harder times. I recently asked at a local supermarket whey they had stopped stocking a particular item. I was told there was no local choice. They had to take whatever Head Office decided.

Roy Tomlinson