Doncaster Voices: Doncaster’s empty shops – how can we best fill them?

editorial image

Welcome to Doncaster Voices, your weekly debate forum. If you want to get involved, submit 150 words with name, title and photo to chris.page@jpress.co.uk and your views could appear next week, when subject is ... “How can we make Doncaster’s danger roads safer?”

Bill Mordue, DMBC Business, Skills and Economic Development Cabinet Member

There is no doubt our shopping habits have changed over years with more of us switching to online retail websites and visiting shopping outlets out of town. Doncaster has a very large retail space - about the same size as Sheffield city – so it’s obvious there are going to be challenges keeping our shops occupied. We can’t force businesses to set up in empty spaces but what we can do is revitalise our town centre and make it appealing for residents to live in and businesses to move to and create employment. This is why we have created the Urban Centre Masterplan that will transform the town centre. A new station forecourt will be constructed, new library and museum built and our market area will be completely revamped. The town centre is changing. But it will be for the better.

Bill Morrison, Chair of Trustees at East Doncaster Development Trust

What do we do? Well first STOP the outflow of business to out of town sites. We have enough now. New business can be encouraged through the rating system. For example, rates could be fixed for a three year period, with an automatic discount of 50 per cent on each of the years. Time for the newcomers to establish and budget. We can’t afford it, we hear. Nonsense! Can we afford or prefer empty buildings year after year? Some money is better than none. Secondly, FREE parking at weekends (Saturday and Sunday). I can hear them crying again, but we must encourage business and shoppers alike if we are to fill those empty buildings. And why not have a level of enforcement on owners? Leave it empty and run down for a year and risk a big bill for the clean up! Nothing is impossible. It just needs commitment.

Steve Swann, Business Growth Adviser, Doncaster Chamber

The problem of empty shops is a national problem. There are many and varied reasons for this, but we should look at this as an opportunity for either new start-up businesses or early years businesses (up to two years old). It would be imperative to make the shops affordable to operate by initiating incentive schemes for rent and business rates. It would also be important to have access to fast, reliable and secure wi-fi to facilitate the new retail model. This initiative wold help encourage thinking ‘out of the box’ and taking more risks. Doncaster Chamber can provide business support to these new start-up and early years businesses including social media and business growth workshops, mentoring and networking. This would help drive footfall to the shopping areas and make our fantastic Doncaster town centre vibrant again.

Margaret Herbert, Doncaster resident

This is something that is happening in all towns and cities. Maybe greedy landlords to blame or maybe big changes in way people shop now. Poor bus services and expensive parking also have a lot to answer for. People now enjoy the outdoor life more. This can be confirmed by number of people attending and taking part in outdoor events. It is so easy to drive onto outlets around the town without being rushed into having to dash back to the car before the time runs out. If we look back to when my dad was a young boy, they lived in Frenchgate over the shop and there were houses in the town centre. The only solution is to turn these empty shops back into housing, but let designs be in keeping with surrounding properties. If you look above Silver Street empty shops, you will see originally these were houses.

* Send your letters on this – and any other subject – to editorial@doncastertoday.co.uk for publication