What is the future of Grantham’s town centre?
Answering this question is one of my main priorities for 2014.
The recession hit Grantham hard. Lots of shops closed: some like Woolworths because the whole chain went out of business; others like Marks & Spencer because they couldn’t make a success of an old shop on the High Street with no parking and poor access for delivery lorries.
But the recession was not the only force undermining small market towns like ours: the growing popularity of online shopping poses a far deeper challenge to traditional ways of selling people the stuff they want and need. Even with a strong recovery in the economy, many shops are not going to be coming back.
In the future, it is leisure and entertainment that will bring people into the town centre – and shopping for quirky, individual things that cannot be found on the internet. Big department stores and supermarkets will want to have outlets in town – but they will only be able to prosper on large sites with lots of parking where they can cater to the growing demand for “click-and-collect”, which involves people buying things online but picking them up from a local store.
In recent days we have seen two positive developments that give us a glimpse of the future. M&S has announced that it wants to come back to Grantham, but this time in the old Curry’s site on London Road, a store that is almost twice as big as the old High Street store, with parking for 160 cars. And SKDC has announced plans to build a multiplex cinema just off St Peter’s Hill, where it can act as a focal point for family restaurants and cafes.
Many questions remain. What will happen to empty shop units in Westgate, the High Street and The George Centre? Where will potential customers from outside town find cheap and accessible parking? I will return to these questions in future columns.
But, in the meantime, the proposals from M&S and the council give us all some things to smile about.