Business leaders bid to bring big names to Barrow high street
“COME up and see us sometime,” is the message to national high street shops from business leaders in Barrow.
As the Furness peninsula embraces the prospect of major investment in the area, those with an eye on the economic prosperity of the town are keen to attract top names from the world of retail.
It is predicted that, over the next five years, south and west Cumbria will benefit from multi-billion investments as major industries up their game in the area.
Barrow shipyards are already at the helm of a £41bn programme to build nuclear-armed Dreadnought-class submarines while up the coast near Sellafield nuclear giants NuGen are working to deliver a £10bn power plant at Moorside.
Combine these projects with plans to connect Moorside to the National Grid at Heysham in Lancashire and Harker near Carlisle in a £2.8bn scheme and the future looks decidedly rosy for this corner of Cumbria.
But while the industrial economy looks to be on the up, business leaders are concerned that this is not reflected in Barrow town centre which has seen its fair share of shop closures.
“I suppose it is the best of times, the worst of times,” said David Pidduck, Barrow Borough Council's spokesman for economic development and regeneration.
“On one hand we have these major developments from Barrow up the west coast which will feed into the town's economy but then we have a changing retail scene where more people – particularly the younger generation – are shopping online.
“This inevitably has an impact on high street retailers who find it difficult to open and maintain stores.”
Mr Pidduck said he finds it frustrating that the big chains make decisions at national level about the future of stores without looking at the town centres themselves.
He continued: “Before making decisions, these retailers need to come here and see how people spend their money.
“We do have big industries here which are continuing to develop and people do have money to spend. You just need to look at car dealerships in the area where high-end vehicles are being sold and I'm told that there is a big demand for cashmere in one of our high street stores.
“We are about to see a booming economy round here and people will have money in their pockets. My message to these stores is to come to see us and see what they are missing.
“I am saying 'come here and invest'; see what we have to offer. We have supermarkets chains - Morrisons, Tesco and Asda - in town already and they are thriving.”
Mr Pidduck added that the council is also encouraging independent businesses to take advantage of Barrow market by starting there on a small scale.
“We are very keen to support those who want to start up in the town,” he says. “We also have a Business Improvement District here in Barrow with which we have frequent meetings together with the county council to see how we can increase footfall in the town.”
Mr Pidduck's views are echoed by Simon Craig, chairman of Barrow BID.
“We need to encourage major firms to come here and see what we have to offer,” he said.
“It is all about marketing what we have to offer here to attract both retailers and workers.”
Mr Craig pointed out that Barrow already has some big-name stores such as M&S, Debenhams, Next, New Look, and Waterstones but needs more of the same, as well as a more robust independent scene.
“Shops have closed in the town centre but in some cases this is because they have moved to out-of-town retail parks. B&M Bargains moved to Hollywood Park leaving its high street store empty while Argos moved to Walney Road. Fortunately, its premises were take over by The Entertainer toy shop.
“Store Twenty One ladies fashion closed down last year but that was because of national receivership which, of course, we can't do anything about.”
He added: “In order to get new retailers into Barrow we need to increase the footfall through the town centre. We are, through BID, organising a number of events to drive this and bring more people into town centre.”