What impact is the retail boom at Beardmore Park, Martlesham, having on nearby high streets?
- Credit: Archant
The out-of-town retail park at Martlesham Heath continues to grow - how are local high streets responding?
It is one of Suffolk’s town centre gems – a mix of superb independents, long-established family businesses and great places to eat and drink in pleasant surroundings.
So much so, that Woodbridge Thoroughfare is a finalist in this year’s Great British High Street Awards, the winner of which will be decided soon.
However, not even our very best high streets are immune from the ongoing threat of out-of-town retail parks.
And in the case of Woodbridge, that threat appears to be growing – in the shape of Beardmore Park at Martlesham, little more than a few miles away.
Traders have spoken of the increasing challenges posed by the retail park, which has seen a series of store openings in the last year – but also told how refusing to be a ‘clone town’ will hopefully see the town succeed.
James Lightfoot, the chairman of Choose Woodbridge – which submitted the award bid – said: “While there is always concern about the impact retail chain stores might have on local, small businesses, we are lucky that Woodbridge has never been a clone town.
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“We have a good balance of high street stalwarts and independent shops which ensures we have decent footfall in Woodbridge and can create a rounded shopping experience which includes access to plenty of independent , quirky cafes and restaurants which retail parks simply cannot provide.
“Another threat to high streets is online shopping but you cannot pick up a loaf of bread from an award-winning baker, hand-pick a selection of boiled sweets from a traditional sweet shop or find a bespoke and individual piece of jewellery on the likes of Amazon. This is why we continue to triumph – we can provide a shopping experience you can’t find anywhere else and we intend to keep doing so.”
Peter Elsom of Elsom Spettigue Associates, a commercial surveyors in Woodbridge, said that although commercial property rents in Woodbridge have increased by 10% in the last five years, the town centre shops shouldn’t worry about suffering from the expansion of Martleheath. “I think its two different markets. Woodbridge’s traditional shops are very different to the out of town big box stores which are proving popular.
“Ipswich will suffer, as opposed to small market towns. The whole landscape of retail shopping is changing, because is a whole generation that will click to buy now.
“But there are also people who will go to the town centre for recreation and to bag a bargain in the charity shops.”
But the owner of an independent shop with a 50-year history in Woodbridge has raised concerns that the expansion of Beardmore Park at Martlesham Heath will lead to shoppers by-passing the town centre.
Jill Barrett of Barretts, a home furnishings store on the Thoroughfare in Woodbridge, says new stores at Martlesham Heath, such as Boots, which opened this week, are a “massive concern” to her.
“Its ludicrous having a Boots there when there’s a perfectly good Boots in town,” she said. “There is a real missed opportunity for the planners to join up what’s happening in local towns. I am frustrated because they don’t work with us. When the council planners look at which shops to put into the retail park, they need to put more consideration into the sorts of shops that are already here.”
Ms Barrett would also like to see business rates realigned so that out of town shops pay similar rates to those in the town centres.
The rateable values of most of the big stores in Martlesham work on a base rate of £150 per sq. metre, compared to £500 per sq. metre - more than triple the rate - for those in Woodbridge Thoroughfare (shop nos 58 to 60).
“The rates we pay are astronomical, its almost as much as our rent,” said Ms Barrett. “The retail park stores have free parking.
It needs to be more of a level playing field. We have enough on our plate with high rates and rents without having to worry about fending off more competition from out of town.”
Ms Barrett claims she noticed a significant drop in sales when Next opened up at Martlesham Heath in 2012. “We had to realign our stock and change what we well because Next cover it,” she said. “Woodbridge lost our last homeware shop, Hogg@Home, which was affected by Next opening.”
Although Woodbridge is still thriving compared to many other town centres, with several independent coffee shops and stores, Ms Barrett argues that people still need a “compelling reason” to come to Woodbridge.
“Since we lost Budgens two years ago, there is no longer a balance of food shops - just the Co-op, which has a monopoly” she said.
The Taplin Gallery also recently closed down in Woodbridge, and Global Trading home interiors business has just moved out from a store on Quay Street to Base Business Park in Rendlesham. Its director, Richard Read, is concerned at the number of charity shops that have moved into Woodbridge. “There are nine charity shops in the High Street, which is a massive number. They keep the rents artificially high because they get rate relief. They are also allowed to sell a certain percentage of new goods in charity shops and a lot of them go way beyond.”
To vote for Woodbridge on the Great British High Street awards, simply post on Twitter and Facebook pages using the hashtag #MyHighStreet and #GBHSWoodbridge.
The winning high street will be announced in November, with the winner receiving a £10,000 cash prize for a local community project.