How did our town centres hold up under pressure last year?

The Town Centre North site in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: WHBC

The Town Centre North site in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: WHBC - Credit: WHBC

Vacancy rates increased in five Welwyn Hatfield shopping centres and declined in four, according to the borough council. 

Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council's annual retail survey, which was undertaken late in October and December due to the coronavirus restrictions, revealed how our high streets are faring during the pandemic.

In Welwyn Garden City town centre, vacancy increased to 8.6 per cent from 4.1 per cent in 2019, which was not as bad as its closer neighbour Hatfield. 

READ MORE: Asda’s shut door policy ‘restricts access for elderly’ in Hatfield

Hatfield town centre's vacant floor space increased to 16.5 per cent from 13.8 per cent last year, reflecting the loss of Peacocks as well as other key businesses. 

Peacocks in Hatfield town centre. Picture: Charlotte McLaughlin

Peacocks in Hatfield town centre. Picture: Charlotte McLaughlin - Credit: Archant

It is also due to the redevelopment at 1-9 Town Centre, the borough council's survey notes, which is set to transform the new town. Vacancy at the out-of-centre Galleria also increased further. 

The Galleria's vacancy this year hit 22.4 per cent from 13.3 per cent in 2019, according to the borough council, which followed an increase from 7.1 per cent in 2018.

There was a fight between two women at the Galleria in Hatfield. Picture: Google street view.

The Galleria, Hatfield - Credit: Archant

Centre director Tim Stirling explained these numbers have changed and said the current void rate is 16 per cent, which also represents new additions to the shopping centre with the Television and Movie Store opening before Christmas. 

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He added: “The pandemic has been very challenging for retailers, but we are in discussions with a number of new operators about taking space.

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"Retailers are beginning to look ahead and plan how they build their recovery with new stores in key locations such as The Galleria.  In addition, we continue to work very closely with all our existing brand partners to provide them with support both during the current lockdown and for the longer term.”

Vacancy in town centres is measured by frontage length – and increases in both town centres was largely a result of a small number of larger units becoming vacant.

READ MORE: ASB reports low in ‘pleasant and safe’ Hatfield town centre as traders voice concerns and police heighten presence

Cllr Tony Kingsbury, leader of WHBC, told the WHT when ithey ran a series about issues facing Hatfield Town Centre last year that: “High streets across the country face many challenges, but Hatfield is faring well with very few empty units compared to most town centres. 

"Supporting existing traders is key to this success and will remain our focus as we continue to work to secure the town’s prosperous future.”

The borough has continued to see a net loss of employment floorspace, totalling 5,903 metres squared in 2019/20. 

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