With the closure of major retailers in Ilkeston leaving a sour taste in the mouth, the question on residents’ lips is what can be done to revive and boost the town’s shopping hub?
Since 2009, Ilkeston has seen major national retailers, including Woolworths and Argos, close central stores.
Last year the town centre received the hammer blow of the closure of the flagship Co-op store and last week, the ‘Tiser broke news that McDonald’s is closing the doors to its restaurant in the Albion Centre in favour of a new drive-thru opposite Tesco.
This has left major retail premises on Bath Street and in the centre itself empty. Buildings like the former Woolwroths and Argos have become eyesore blots on the town landscape.
This week, ‘Tiser reporter Nadya Ahmed spoke exclusively to high street innovator of 45 years, Bill Grimsey, and Shadow Small Business Minister Toby Perkins as they visited Bath Street on the invitation of Labour Parliamentary candidate for Erewash for 2015, Catherine Atkinson.
Mr Grimsey visited Ilkeston and other Derbyshire towns as part of a review he is conducting into the future of the high street. His findings will inform the Labour manifesto for next year’s General Election. The trio took a tour of Ilkeston’s main shopping street, which was then followed by a discussion with councillors and high street retailers to consider what could be done to revive the high street in the future.
Former Iceland boss, Mr Grimsey, was extremely impressed by the town centre’s potential. He reiterated throughout his visit that Ilkeston had the greatest opportunity for growth than any other centre he had visited on his tour.
“There is just so much around here, it is a historical and beautiful town and the empty buildings are eyesores - I don’t understand why something hasn’t been done sooner to combat this,” he said.
“We should be nurturing our high streets and ensuring they can evolve to fit the needs of the 21st century shopper who dabbles on the internet and in the supermarket.”
He added: “Councils should be planning now, and worrying about where we will find the money later - that way they are being active and instrumental in ensuring Ilkeston meets the needs of its residents.”
The entrepreneur added that empty shops held potential for accommodation for residents who could immerse themselves in the centre.
“Unfortunately this vast space can’t just be saved for retail alone, otherwise it will be a waste,” he added. “What I was most shocked at, was that the new college has been built nearby and nothing has been thought of to cater to the students needs, we should be attracting people to this wonderful town, not giving them a reason to go elsewhere.”
MP Toby Perkins reiterated that councils should be planning for the next ten-to-15 years, not months.
He added: “We’re hoping that with propositions such as free one-hour parking in council-run car parks people will start to come into the centre more.
“Also the rents need addressing, there is definitely a new Government approach needed in this area so that major retailers as well as independent ones are attracted to this wonderful centre, we’re past the time of indoor shopping arcades, which I understand have been suggested, and should be embracing more modern means.”
Also joining the tour of Ilkeston town centre was Cllr Alex Phillips, leader of the Labour party on Erewash Borough Council.
Catherine Atkinson said: “I am so passionate about Ilkeston’s town centre and this passion should be shown by the way we look after our local businesses which is precisely why I wanted Bill and Toby to come today to see the true potential Ilkeston has.”