Stevenage McDonald's closure sparks concerns over high number of empty town centre units

PUBLISHED: 06:58 17 April 2019

McDonald's in Stevenage Town Square is closing. Picture: DANNY LOO

McDonald's in Stevenage Town Square is closing. Picture: DANNY LOO

©2019 Archant

McDonald's in Stevenage town centre is set to permanently close, prompting concerns about the significant number of vacant retail units in the shopping area.

McDonald's in Stevenage Town Square is closing. Picture: DANNY LOOMcDonald's in Stevenage Town Square is closing. Picture: DANNY LOO

A spokesman for the fast food chain confirmed the restaurant in Town Square will be shutting permanently, but other sites on Stevenage Leisure Park and Monkswood Retail Park will remain.

“The decision to close the restaurant was not taken lightly and all members of staff have been offered employment in our other restaurants nearby,” a spokesman said.

“We will continue to explore alternative opportunities within the area too.”

The closure has prompted concerns from shoppers about the considerable number of empty units in the town centre.

Queensway, Stevenage Town Centre. Picture: DANNY LOOQueensway, Stevenage Town Centre. Picture: DANNY LOO

On Facebook, one shopper said: “I walked through town and it was a very sorry sight of empty shop after empty shop, especially around where Marks and Spencer used to be [on Queensway]. Both sides had so many empty units.

“I remember, back in the day, when they were all full. Very sad.”
Another said: “Rent and rates are so high that it is hard for any business to succeed.”

Stevenage Borough Council has a £1 billion plan to regenerate Stevenage town centre over the next 20 years, with construction work on SG1 – which will revamp the western side of the town centre where The Plaza, bus station, council offices, and several car parks are currently located – set to start next year.

About the news on McDonald's, an SBC spokeswoman said: “The departure of McDonald's from the town centre is largely driven by a change in the company's business model and – as Stevenage already has two existing McDonald's, both of which have 'drive-thrus', and the town centre unit only regularly uses 50 per cent of its available space – they have chosen not to renew their lease.

Queensway, Stevenage Town Centre. Picture: DANNY LOOQueensway, Stevenage Town Centre. Picture: DANNY LOO

“Planning permission has been granted for significant improvements to the block, and we are currently in discussions with a number of food and beverage outlets over moving into the existing McDonald's facility and we are considering a range of options, including whether to keep this as a single unit or to convert it into two individual units.

“There is significant market interest in the units, partly driven by the regeneration that is already under way and will be introducing new brands into this space in the coming months.

“The redevelopment of Queensway North by Reef Developments – including the former M&S unit – is already under way and, with Mace signed as the development partner for SG1, it is an exciting time for Stevenage despite the challenging national picture around traditional retail.”

The shock closure of the town centre McDonald's comes just weeks after another chain, Office Outlet, announced it was shutting its Stevenage store on Fairlands Way after the company went into administration.

Poundland in Stevenage Town has closed and is relocating to a larger premises. Picture: DANNY LOOPoundland in Stevenage Town has closed and is relocating to a larger premises. Picture: DANNY LOO

However, fears Poundland has permanently left Stevenage after closing its Queensway store earlier this month are unfounded, with the retail giant set to open a bigger branch in Queensway next month.

The issue regarding vacant premises has not just been confined to Stevenage New Town, with the former Prezzo, Lloyds Bank and Domin8 Sports Nutrition units in Stevenage Old Town among those currently sitting empty.

One shopper on Facebook said: “Retail as it's known is finished. We need to find another way to fill our high streets.”

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