House of Fraser closure - what the experts say it means for Grimsby town centre and it is a BIG change

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 8 Jun 2018

Grimsby's town centre needs to change if it is to survive. That's the bold call from our town's leaders.

A day after House of Fraser confirmed its Grimsby store is set to close, latest figures add to an even bleaker picture for our high street's retail businesses.

While House of Fraser is just one chain - affected by national trends and, arguably, board room-level failure - its loss shines a light on the battle ahead for Grimsby's high street.

The House of Fraser store in Grimsby which is set to close

House of Fraser will join 53 units now standing unoccupied in just one section of the town centre, and town leaders are now demanding a "fit for purpose" high street to halt retail decline.

The loss of such a big retailer, in reputation and floor space, has prompted calls for action - in the House of Commons, the Town Hall and out on the streets.

The council say "external confidence" in Grimsby remains high. But with 14% of units laying empty - 30 units for more than six months - investors and shoppers remain to be convinced.

And across the board, our leaders agree that something, somehow has to change.

Grimsby's MP Melanie Onn recounted fears the town centre is "dying" during a debate in Parliament. Yesterday, she said the loss of House of Fraser "cannot be underestimated" and said struggles would continue if the High Street was not "re-purposed".

The man in charge of the town's economy, Councillor Peter Wheatley, said the closure of House of Fraser signifies a national trend affecting high streets across the UK - but work is underway to adapt and meet the challenge.

Great Grimsby MP Melanie Onn speaking in the Commons

In Grimsby, he said the Greater Grimsby Town Deal - a multi-million pound plan to build homes and create jobs - is looking to unleash change and prompt a revival in the town centre and beyond.

“The £20m cinema development is starting on site in a few months, with the promise of jobs at the retail and food stores that will be associated with it," he said. “And beyond just Grimsby, we are delivering land developments and providing “oven-ready” sites attractive to investors.

“These announcements show that whilst there are challenges, external confidence in Grimsby remains high."

Lawrence Brown, partner at Scotts Property, largely agreed. Our High Street is not doomed, he said, but it would need to radically transform.

House of Fraser on Victoria Street is one of 31 stores earmarked for closure (Image: Abby Ruston)

House of Fraser's closure, he admitted, would have a "terrible" impact on staff and create a "void" in the town centre. The unit, on Victoria Street, could attract another big chain or be split into smaller units.

But rather than simply plugging one empty retail gap, a radical new look is required - from authorities, businesses and, most critically, consumers.

"In order for the town centre to thrive and continue we have got to move it away from somewhere where people come to shop," he said. "If we can try and create a town centre where people might live and spend their leisure time, we will have more of a cluster of activity going on."

READ MORE: Poundworld set to go into administration putting its future in doubt

He said the Town Deal would be key: "It's not going to happen over night, but it might be a catalyst for more change. We have got to look at the longer term legacy that it creates - that's really important."

And in the meantime, he said, each and every one of us needs to examine our shopping habits.

"We shouldn't be shocked," said Mr Brown. "Is it any surprise that shops can't survive? We should blame ourselves."

More than 50 retail units stand empty in just one section of Grimsby's town centre (Image: Rick Byrne)

And as consumers turn their back on the High Street, retail businesses need to offer a quality of service that can compete with the "clicking and picking" allure of online shopping.

"It's evolving. It's changing. There's no doubt," said Mr Brown, who also chairs a retail action group. "But it's not any different from other town centres across the north of England."

He said we have to simply "use it or lose it", adding: "If we want a good town centre, we have to take part."

It seems that if we want our High Street to thrive - in Grimsby and elsewhere - it might need to break away from its centuries-old role and formulate a new purpose fit for the 21st century.

Impact of planned House Of Fraser closure in Grimsby 'cannot be underestimated', says MP​

Grimsby MP Melanie Onn has said the impact of the proposed closure of the town’s House Of Fraser store “cannot be underestimated” though the council insists confidence in the town centre "remains high".

Speaking to David Burns on BBC Radio Humberside this morning, the Labour MP expressed her disappointment at today’s announcement and said it would be a “massive loss” to the town.

She said: “It’s incredibly disappointing to hear this news about House Of Fraser. It’s not all that surprising as rumours have been circulating for some months.

“The impact that it will have on Grimsby town centre cannot be underestimated. It takes up a huge amount of space in the town centre. It will be a massive loss.”

The retailer announced plans to shut 31 of its 59 stores this morning after the brand was recently taken over by Chinese company C.banner, who also own Hamleys. The business took a 51 per cent controlling stake of House Of Fraser, but the sale was conditional on store closures as part of a restructuring to “deliver a sustainable, long-term business”.

Ms Onn said she brought the issue of retail up in Parliament only yesterday where she was assured “retail isn’t failing” by a government minister.

She said: “It’s yet another blow for staff who work in retail. There was debate yesterday in the House of Commons where I did speak and I raised this issue of the future of town centres and retail.

“Obviously, Grimsby lost BHS, we had a slight worry about Marks & Spencer, and we’ve lost Game and Trade Nation – a number of household names.

“I said to the minister I was concerned about it, and that the number of empty shops in Grimsby has left people asking me ‘what are we going to do? The town centre is dying’.

“He told me ‘retail isn’t failing’ so I said if boarded up shops is success for retail, I hate to think what failure looks like.

“People want more from their town centres. I understand consumer habits are changing, and that if people want these things they have to use them.”

The House of Fraser store in Victoria Street, Grimsby (Image: Jon Corken)

With Grimsby town centre apparently in a state of decline, Ms Onn added the importance of securing the town deal is more important than ever before.

She said: “It makes me feel even more a sense of urgency to get the Town Deal supported properly by the government. It’s about changing consumer habits and making sure that we’ve got a town centre fit for the future. That means repurposing the town centre so it’s not just about the shops, but other reasons for people to go to the town centre with shops being part of a mix.

“But without having government support about the heritage and the change of housing in the town centre and all of that coming together with new jobs and training opportunities, we’re going to struggle.”

Meanwhile, North East Lincolnshire Council have reacted to this morning’s announcement, saying they will “do everything” to support staff affected by the proposed closure and highlighted the upcoming cinema development as an example of “high external confidence” in Grimsby town centre.

Councillor Peter Wheatley, portfolio holder for the economy, said: “Should the House of Fraser plan be approved to close a number of stores across the UK, including Grimsby, we will, of course, work with our key partners locally to help the staff find other employment.

“We will do everything we can to support employees during this difficult time. We are determined to keep working in partnership with our private sector partners and future investors to bring new employment opportunities to the area.

“Recent announcements, such as the cinema and the associated retail units within it, along with the pilot Town Deal show that whilst there are challenges, external confidence in Grimsby remains high.”

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