Exeter's Green Party Policy Officer has hit out against last weeks opening of John Lewis and the "deliberate strategy of attracting corporate retail to Exeter".
Andrew Bell, the candidate for St David's and St James, told thisisexeter about his fear of the "economic centre of gravity moving down the High Street, leaving retailers in the Harlequins, the Guildhall Shopping Centre and the many small businesses in Fore Street struggling."
Mr Bell went on to express fears over the fact that Exeter is still considered a "clone town", an issue raised by the Occupy Exeter movement earlier this year, he said:
"In recent years there has been a deliberate strategy of attracting corporate retail to Exeter. Because the focus has been on 'big names', smaller businesses and enterprises have been badly neglected. A few years ago, Exeter won the unenviable accolade of the Uk's worst 'clone town', based on the fact that the High Street contained only one independent shop (still the case). Princesshay has further entrenched the corporate retailers in the city centre with small independent shops and enterprises pushed to the margins. Many businesses are closing down at this end of the city and there are many empty shops. John Lewis will do little if anything to address this; wild claims about 'everyone profiting' simply don't stack up. People visiting the city to shop at John Lewis may well venture into Princesshay, but are unlikely to move as far as Fore Street or the Harlequins."
Despit claims of "many empty shops" the latest Exeter vacant City Centre retail units rate stands at 43, the equivalent of 6.96% of all units in the city centre. This figure is significantly better than that of the 12.5 - 14.5% national average.
Exeter's City Centre Manager, John Harvey said on the negative reaction to "The John Lewis Factor":
"John Lewis will attract vast numbers of additional shoppers into the city centre which will deliver a benefit for every city centre business whether small or large. Every business weather in Fore Street, Sidwell Street, Cathedral Yard, Gandy Street, Queen Street or Paris Street. John Lewis is about insuring the size of the cake is bigger and therefore there are actual more potential slices of the cake for more businesses. Our job is of course to work with businesses across the city centre to make sure we sign post this army of people into every section of the city centre and we will be working hard to do that as we always do, even though resources are often limited."
In the West Quarter of the city centre independent business owners have taken matters into their own hands to make sure things like sign posts attracting visitors towards the lesser know areas of the city will be erected.
Coordinator of the West Quarter collective, Lorna Young of Shaker Maker on Fore Street said:
"The majority of independent businesses in the West Quarter are really enthusiastic about working together to try and enhance the shopping experience in and around Fore Street to benefit local traders and other small businesses who have a vested interest in improving this area."
Independent businesses in Exeter have also recently joined forces to promote an "Indie Christmas" for the city's smaller establishments. A collective of business owners across Exeter are creating the concept of a "Christmas shopping map" to be given to customers at designated shops or cafes who are taking part. Read more about the scheme here:
Despite fears raised by the Green Party Candidate it has been show that "The John Lewis affect" has brought in shoppers to other areas of Exeter with a large increase of footfall in the Guildhall Shopping Centre last week, with numbers up to about 3,500 on Friday, about 2,000 on Saturday and were flat on Sunday. Andrew McNeilly, the Guildhall Shopping Centre's manager said:
"That is 5,500 up on John Lewis' first three days and you have to put this in context – across the South West the retailing figures are minus 3.2% year on year and nationally minus 2.2%. Exeter is almost nine per cent up on the national average and that is good news by anybody's standards. There is nothing negative to say about it."
Andrew Bell went on to mention other issues he has with the new Exeter department store:
"There has been a very Exeter-centric view on John Lewis – new jobs, a boost to the local economy etc. But concentrating retail power in one city could mean that shops in other Devon towns or even in Plymouth could experience a slow-down and so end up shedding jobs. There are also the environmental and social issues associated with the arrival of a large retailer, which seem to have either been an afterthought or ignored. For example, it is clear the changes to the road system and traffic flows as a result of the opening of John Lewis have left many local people unhappy with the resulting congestion, air pollution and road safety issues."
Road safety issues mentioned include recent reports of residents around Longbrook Road and York Road complaining about the "huge" increase of traffic in the area. As reported in a recent Express and Echo article due to this increase in traffic a young girl from St Sidwell's Primary School was knocked over just days into the new term.
Jack Nichols, 82, who has lived in the area for 47 years, told the paper:
"You dare not walk across the road now – it is terrible. We all saw it coming and I would just urge the council to open it back up the way it was. All this talk of John Lewis is ridiculous. You don't see all the shops in London demanding that Oxford Street, Piccadilly and the Strand are closed to traffic, so why should it happen here."
Mr Bell finished his remarks with a list of changes to Exeter the Green Party would like to see, including "Investment incentives to attract small local businesses and enterprises to Exeter, backed by the City Council" and "Development of a local currency that can be used in local businesses and enterprises similar to the Totnes pound or Bristol pound."
Do you agree with Andrew Bell's comments that there have been "hugely exaggerated claims" made about John Lewis or with the City Centre manager and the fact that John Lewis "will deliver a benefit for every city centre business"? Let us know in the comment section below.