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Two Torbay shop closures spark warning over 'unfair' rates in town centres

By Herald Express  |  Posted: January 12, 2013

By ELLIOT ANDERTON AND TINA CROWSON

level playing field:   John Doherty outside the closed Jessops shop in Union Street, Torquay   Andy Styles TQAS20130108E-002_C

John Doherty outside the closed Jessops shop in Union Street, Torquay Andy Styles TQAS20130108E-002_C

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TORBAY is reeling from the body blow of losing two top High Street names in prime locations.

Long established Jessops Photography in Union Street, Torquay, has closed and Burton Menswear in Paignton is to shut on January 19. It is believed half a dozen jobs could be lost. The Torquay branch of Burton shut in 2011 after 74 years. Its parent group, Arcadia, last April opened a shop at the out of town complex at the Willows selling Burton clothes.

Jessops cited the Torquay store's poor trade as the main reason for the closure. The company said it would redeploy affected staff in other parts of the company where possible.

The news comes after the closure of other big names last year including Monsoon, Early Learning Centre and Past Times.

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It is understood, however, that some new operators are looking at Torquay, while others are considering expansion.

Traders who have been waiting for a Torbay Council parking review since a special meeting last August, fear resistance to parking charges may have played a part in the loss of trade. The parking review is expected to go to a council meeting at the end of the month.

Business people across South Devon have also warned a proposed Government delay in revaluating high rates could sound the death knell for more businesses. While High Street rents in areas like Torquay have in some cases halved, rates bills look set to remain at the high values based on peak figures of 2008 for years to come. A cross district campaign has been launched.

John Doherty, chairman of the Torquay Business Improvement District steering group and owner of the town centre Dot's Pantry cafe, who has campaigned for realistic business rates, said: "The current rates are completely unfair. The bigger the business the less you pay, particularly for the front of the property. We need a level playing field."

He added: "I am also concerned that parking issues are a major player in this."

He questioned the closure decision by Jessops as photography is one of the fastest growing hobbies and said: "This represents a real opportunity for an independent trader to open the only camera shop in Torquay."

James Cross, chairman for the Torbay Chamber of Trade, believes a deeper look into the issues facing the Torbay high street is now needed.

He said: "Perhaps Torbay is being hit harder than other parts of the country. There are several factors; losing business to other business centres in Devon, and maybe parking. We need a long term sustainability plan."

On the Burton closure in Paignton, Matthew Clarke, chairman of the Paignton Business Improvement District steering group, said: "The store used to break sales records in the South West per square foot. It's extraordinary that this store has closed and yet Brixham's remains open.

"We need brand names in the town. We have more than 10,000 students around from South Devon College so there must be an opportunity there."

Richard Rendle-Jones, centre director at Union Square in Torquay, said their footfall figures for the Christmas season were on a par with similar resorts and better than some. He said Government measures on lending could help ease the situation in 2013.

He revealed: "We have had inquiries for units, including the former JJB Sports shop."

Paul Bettesworth, director for retail and business space at Bettesworths, said they had received several inquiries for units in the Bay, some from national retailers.

He said landlords were keen to get units let and he said rents had dropped for example from a high in 2007/8 of £90 a square foot for prime retail space to £40 to £45.

He said: "But even if they charge a zero rent there is still a major liability for business rates."

Chris Griffin, owner of the popular tourist land train in Torbay, believes the area can learn from the business models of neighbouring Totnes and Dartmouth. He said: "We need more individual businesses such as second hand book shops as Torbay can't compete with other parts of Devon.

"My business was down around 20 per cent last year."

Jessops, which opened the Torquay store in 1998, said it was continuing a programme of updating stores, with the nearest in Exeter and Plymouth. The company said: "As part of this improvement programme the profitability of existing stores are assessed to establish their on-going commercial viability. Unfortunately the Torquay store no longer meets the profitability criteria."

Burton confirmed the closure of the Paignton store and said they were working hard to redeploy staff within other Arcadia stores.

Ian Broadfoot, chief executive of Torbay Town Centres Company, said: "These are very difficult times for the retail sector and town centres across the country. We continue to work hard with the public and private sectors to continue to develop vibrant town centres in Torbay.

"We would also continue to encourage central and local government to help town centres in innovative ways and to reduce costs for both businesses to trade in and customers to visit town centres. Reducing parking charges and introducing pay on exit parking for example would be of great benefit."

In a poll on our website thisissouthdevon.co.uk of more than 2,400 readers who answered whether they thought parking was good value in Torbay, 92 per cent said they go out of town or to other centres while eight per cent said it was value for money.

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  • mikelister66  |  January 23 2013, 1:33PM

    Good to see we have such experts on this forum - predicting the fall of Argos two days before they annouced a rise in profits. http://tinyurl.com/b2cwr8n

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  • Pingu007  |  January 19 2013, 9:25AM

    @ Reality zone: I've got no personal beef with Gordon Oliver. He seems largely to be moving things in the right direction, as did the previous mayor, but both of them far too slowly. Oliver has been in post nearly two years now, yet it was only last week when I had to wade through piles of drunks and druggies on the stretch from the Kitchen Shop to Pizza Express. I accept it's probably not the mayor I should be blaming for that, but Devon & Cornwall Police, and their new, anonymous (I can't remember who was voted in, his profile is non-existent) commissioner. Yet the mayor should, and must hold him to account. There are whispers, too, that Primark will be going when their lease expires. Not sure that will be the fault of internet shopping (you can't buy such cheap tat online: the postage would cost more than the goods) but of a town where no-one from their target market (mostly under 30, under size 14, if their stock is any indication) has much cash to spend. We need a different model for high streets. The corporations and pension funds who own the majority of the stock must recognise that they cannot charge their historically high rents; the government must do more to help small businesses (why is it when large businesses fail, they always seem to owe millions of pounds in tax and unpaid staff? The Comet meltdown cost the taxpayer something like £50 million in pay and redundancy packages for employees together with unpaid VAT and other taxes) and be more timely in claming taxes from large corporations, and our local uninspired and uninspiring council must find some new ideas from somewhere to rejuvenate all three towns. Oh, and the Leonard Stock Centre should receive nothing from the taxpayer. If all these bleeding hearts want such a facility in our town centre, they can pay for it themselves.

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  • TrubblnStrife  |  January 17 2013, 9:58AM

    High business rates and expensive parking are undoubtedly affecting the viability of local stores, but what's the solution? Cutting the revenue from these sources would mean that unless there are further cuts in local services, residents would face another increase in council tax. The real question is whether we value our local businesses enough to spend our money there, even when we could buy the same items elsewhere for less. That's a difficult decision to make in the current tough economic climate, but as long as Torbay residents continue to shop in retail parks or online, High Street shops will continue to close. It's a matter of culture as well as money – Totnes continues to have a thriving High Street because its residents take pride in their town and care enough to support the businesses there even when it means paying a little more. Torquay and Paignton were once elegant, affluent towns and could be again, if their residents start taking pride in them. Yes, it's tempting to save a pound (or several) by shopping elsewhere, but if we really care about where we live, we have to look beyond short-term savings and start thinking about our shopping as a long-term investment in our towns.

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  • eponymice  |  January 15 2013, 7:52PM

    @Azriel22 "If Argos continues to suffer from over-zealous traffic wardens hassling their customers I can see that going next." If/when Argos go into administration or radically change their operation it will not be due to traffic wardens. Argos as a company has been in difficulties for some time and Home Retail, who own Argos are possibly the most short sold national retail enterprise at the moment which is an indication of their problems. Again it is a case of an outdated business model with outlets in the wrong locations. If Light Options are closing their shop that is sad, hopefully they will be able to continue with their installations business.

  • Azriel22  |  January 15 2013, 1:23PM

    Sad indeed for yet two more retailers to leave the High Street and to be followed by the insolvent HMV very shortly. Of greater importance than these branches of National chains closing their doors is the fact that the established family business of Light Options in Union Street is throwing in the towel after thirty years trading. If Argos continues to suffer from over-zealous traffic wardens hassling their customers I can see that going next. RIP Union Street - bring on the bulldozers.

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  • SidneyNuff  |  January 13 2013, 3:53PM

    We don't have people with ideas here anymore, they have all moved away. We just have people with addictions.

  • spindleshanks  |  January 13 2013, 12:31PM

    Perhaps Fleet walk should be allowed to expand upwards (the entrance and exit ramps are already in position to accept extra car parking decks), thereby allowing additional retail space on existing lower floors. You may then have a viable retail complex on the site. There needs to be substantial town centre redevelopment in Torquay and given that in the recent draft Neighbourhood Plan just about every community outside the town centre doesn't want major developments in their back yards, it falls upon Torquay town centre or Torquay Gateway to come up with the housing numbers laid down in the Local Plan. That is no bad thing for Torquay town centre. It is time to conduct a complete review of conservation areas in Torquay that have for the past 50 years encouraged slum and poor quality housing in preference to decent housing and the evidence of that statement is there for all to see. There are too many shops in Torquay. The town needs to "use" a major player in the grocery business to build a town centre supermarket in order to attract back into town footfall that has in recent years gone to the Willows. The task of redeveloping Torquay town centre is going to fall to private investors to achieve as neither the council nor local tax payer have the funds available to do it. We need "Totnes by the Sea" and some radical proposals for redesigning the town's tourism offer - How about moving the Pavilion to the middle of the inner harbour and opening up the underground river in Fleet Street for starters? Or constructing a glass canopy over a pedestrianised Fleet Street? Ideas anyone?

  • nicold  |  January 13 2013, 11:06AM

    SmartC Yes I used to go to Jessops to look at their cameras and get the feel of them....then I went to Amazon to buy it online and save money. A person must be mad to throw away £35!

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  • realityzone  |  January 13 2013, 10:51AM

    I understand you point of view Pingu007 but your post does include some inaccuracy. Gordon Oliver for all his faults has instigated a major clean up of the sea front from the Imperial Hotel to the Grand Hotel. This started with sorting out the fenced off promenade which had grown weeds throughout the previous Mayor's tenure of office. The So called banjo is now being upgraded and restored and has been kept for the public by not selling it off to developers. There is also work on the pavements and more palm trees. The areas most frequented by the tourists who inject so much money in to this area are being improved. It is however a serious draw back that we lost he attraction of tourist oriented shopping development that George Ferguson proposed.

  • Pingu007  |  January 13 2013, 9:19AM

    Some excellent points, well made. Torquay is simply not a destination shopping centre. Ok, the council is not responsible for the business rents (private landlords) or the business rates (set by national government), but the vast majority of Torquay town centre shops are tired, poorly-stocked and not customer-focussed. They look beaten already. Because of the scenery and the ambience, high-end shops WOULD come to the harbour area, so the council could concentrate on cleaning up that area for a start. The last time I went down there, it seemed stuffed full of drunks, druggies and dossers sitting about begging for money and harassing the few shoppers that were around. Get shot of the dossers, clean up their litter, and review some of the licences held by establishments round there. Job done. And reduce or cut altogether the money given to the Leonard Stocks Centre. Harsh, but necessary. We've had seven years of a mayor, and still they haven't got to grips with any of this.

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