Time for a change
SIR – I have followed with interest the debate over the redevelopment of Letchworth Town Centre. Previously I also took an interest in the development of the Maltings Centre in St Albans and the Galleria in Hatfield. When both schemes were being presented
SIR - I have followed with interest the debate over the redevelopment of Letchworth Town Centre. Previously I also took an interest in the development of the Maltings Centre in St Albans and the Galleria in Hatfield.
When both schemes were being presented great emphasis was made on attracting a department store with John Lewis often cited. Whereas St Albans had two department stores at one time neither development was successful in attracting a key department store to attract other retailers.
There appears to be an expectation among Letchworth residents that either Debenhams or John Lewis would open in Letchworth. As both Hatfield and St Albans have significantly higher populations and attract considerably more footfall, the possibility of a major department store coming to Letchworth must be no more than a dream.
I have concerns that during the redevelopment phase, 18 months or more, accessibility to the remaining stores will be virtually impossible. As a result shoppers will tend to drift elsewhere and possibly find neighbouring centres have more appeal and may never return. It would not surprise me if many retailers decided, given the difficult trading conditions and increasing rents, to take compensation and either relocate in other centres or retire to the sun.
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No account seems to have been taken in this scheme of the impact of internet trading which is growing far quicker than high street sales. Most major chains now feature internet sites and in deciding to make capital expenditure on shop-fitting or web design the benefits of the latter far outweigh the former.
Letchworth is facing a major dilemma. A number of shops have closed in recent times, including major names such as Mothercare, seriously affected by rental levels and business rates making many stores uneconomical. Many units remain empty, Lidls former store, in a prime location, has been unoccupied for two years. This despite Mr Kenny's assertion that rents in Letchworth are low. If trade does not cover costs then any increase in rent will make stores unviable. There is not enough footfall in Letchworth to justify the investment.
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In order to stimulate business in the town, attention should be directed towards the industrial sites. Stevenage has shown what is possible along Gunnels Wood Road with significant new investment taking place and businesses expanding. Why is the Foundation not investing in this part of the town to attract business and therefore trade to the town centre? There are limited other attractions to stimulate visitors. Christmas Markets, street fairs, market stalls other than the farmer's market or the French markets, could be developed. More use could be made of Broadway Gardens and make parking free between 09:30 and 16:00.
In my opinion the Foundation is not acting in the best interest of Letchworth and merely follows their own agenda. Time for a change I think.
Letchworth Garden City