Traders have given a mixed reaction to news that more bargain stores are due to occupy empty units at the city’s troubled Forum Shopping Centre.
Earlier this year, Poundworld took over one of the biggest units in the Forum, previously occupied by the Co-op.
Now Cheshire West and Chester Council has revealed, in a briefing to councillors, that leases have also been agreed with discount retailers B&M and Home Bargains with three ongoing active enquiries.
Terms have been provisionally agreed with B&M to move into the unit formerly occupied by TJ Hughes.
However, Natalie Tansey, of managing agents Legat Owen, cautioned: “I cannot confirm they are going in. We have had interest from people but we have not got as far as where I could say people are going in.”
Pedestrian flow would be boosted by major new retailers but there are fears discount stores could undermine nearby market traders who sell a similar range of goods. Previously the council has turned down tens of potential market businesses on grounds their proposed offer “conflicts with other traders”.
Stallholder Sandra Taker, of Toolcraft, claimed Poundworld had contributed towards the recent demise of a stall run by Roger Hewitt and his daughter Karen who sold cleaning products.
Sandra said some of the Poundworld range overlapped with her own, adding: “There are a few things Poundworld also sell and more so if B & M move in. But I’m not just thinking about me, I’m thinking about the market as a whole and my fellow traders.”
Market hall butcher Geoff Hughes, who takes a different approach, believes B&M and Home Bargains will increase foot-fall to the area generally. He added: “I think sometimes a bit of healthy competition does nobody any harm. It gives you a kick up the backside and makes you look at things in a different way.”
He is more concerned bus services have moved away from the Princess Street area. And while he can see potential opportunities if the Northgate Development goes ahead, he fears the consequences of disruption during the construction phase.
Council spokeswoman Rachel Ashley defended the authority’s stance saying the policy aimed to ensure a wide variety of goods on sale in the market which meant applications were occasionally rejected if the merchandise conflicted with other traders, but this could not be applied outside the market.
She added: “But we would point out that the introduction of new retailers in the Forum also attracts more people to the market.Footfall has increased since Poundworld’s recent arrival and we expect this to increase further once B&M is in situ.”
In addition, the Northgate Project Team and the council’s property team have worked with the Chester BID Company CH1, Chester Market, Chester Zoo and the Chester Theatre Project to “animate” the windows of vacant shop units using graphic vinyl panels to promote what is going on in the city and specific campaigns.
The pilot initiative is being managed in conjunction with Chester-based startup company Windows of Opportunity. The cost for individual windows ranges from £300 to £500 depending on size. Nine windows on vacant units are being treated in this way.
The Forum Shopping Centre will need to be demolished in 2017 to make way for the proposed Northgate Development. The council acquired the centre in December, following its acquisition of assets owned by ING assets who were originally due to deliver Northgate. The authority is therefore working to secure tenants on short term leases up to December 2016 to offset the council’s costs in holding the asset.
Councillor Lynda Jones, executive member for growth and innovation, said: “It is well known that the Forum is to be demolished in 2017 to make way for the proposed Northgate development.
“In the interim we are committed to doing all we can to increase footfall and the number of tenants in the retail units.
“The window dressing project will give the centre a real facelift and the panels can be easily removed once a shop is occupied.”
Councillor Samantha Dixon said: “It is vital that the council supports Chester Market and the existing businesses in the Forum.
“I welcome this short-term measure which will hopefully boost footfall in both areas.
“The panels will give the Forum a fresh and bright new look while providing helpful information for residents and visitors alike.”