MANSFIELD has a strong and vital town centre which is outperforming similar-sized shopping venues, according to a new study.
It says the presence of top high street names like Primark, Debenhams and Topshop is attracting good footfall figures and encouraging people to do their shopping in the town.
But the research, carried out by private consultants Roger Tym and Partners, also calls for greater variety of stores and a much-needed facelift for the Four Seasons Shopping Centre.
The Mansfield Leisure and Retail Study 2011 will now help with plans to move the district forward, although some business owners were unimpressed with the report and its findings.
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It was commissioned by Mansfield District Council, and this week Coun Kate Allsop, portfolio holder for economic regeneration, described the research as ‘a helpful insight’.
“It makes a number of recommendations, such as how much new retail and leisure floor space should be planned for development in the future so that Mansfield town centre can continue to meet shoppers’ needs,” she said.
“It was useful for an organisation based outside the district to come in with an open mind to put forward suggestions which will help to guide us in developments for the future.”
Mansfield is described as a ‘sub-regional shopping centre’ in the report and is outperforming similar locations like Chesterfield and Newark in the variety of shops on offer.
As well as looking at Mansfield, the report also says Warsop and Mansfield Woodhouse shopping areas are performing their own roles as smaller ‘district centres’.
But the study is not positive throughout, with the findings raising concerns about the number of empty shops, particularly on the western end of West Gate, Leeming Street and White Hart Street. It also calls for measures to improve the appearance of the town.
The council should ‘seek the modernisation of the Four Seasons Shopping Centre, both internally and externally, to update its current dated appearance’, the report says.
And there are also fears that the town is not attracting enough diversity and middle to upper end retailers.
“The centre would benefit from the attraction of a higher end department store such as House of Fraser, and fashion retailers such as Monsoon, Zara and H&M,” it adds.
Researchers found there was currently ‘little reason’ to visit the town centre in the early evening because of a lack of restaurants and say a long-term goal could be attracting a cinema development.
June Stendall, who runs Finesse Bridal Studio, on White Hart Street, said the study was ‘contradictory’.
She also questioned how the town could develop a night time economy with restaurants because of the lack of safe parking and whether the study’s calls for a cinema in the town were realistic.
“To bring specialist businesses in we need to make sure rents are affordable,” she added.
“When you are starting up a new business it is an unknown quantity and people won’t tie themselves to long-term leases with expensive rents.
“Mansfield is a fantastic place and we need people to come in, but what is stopping them is not having short-term rental opportunities. I don’t feel the study has put its finger on what is needed.”
But Mansfield Business Improvement District (BID) manager Sarah Newton welcomed the study and said research was important in difficult economic times.
She said: “Though we can all speculate regarding what the mix of retail should be and what the continued knock on effect of the economic climate will be, it is necessary to have such detailed research to ensure that we are planning for the future in an informed way.”
As well as major high street retailers, the report also welcomes the presence of niche and independent shops on Church Street and White Hart Street, and says ‘this should be further encouraged and developed’.
A spokesman for PPG, which owns the Four Seasons Shopping Centre, welcomed the findings and the ‘significance placed on the centre’s importance to the vitality of the whole town’.
“As the Four Seasons is a joint venture with the local authority, PPG has presented proposals to them in the past, but to date no agreement has been reached which would enable a refurbishment to take place,” the spokesman said. “PPG look forward to discussing this issue further with the council in light of the report’s recommendations.”