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Star comment: Closure of town shops concerning

By Star Comment | Opinions | Published:

It is deeply concerning that so many shops in our town centres have closed.

Walsall is one of the worst affected in the country with a quarter of all shops sitting empty.

And it is not much better across the rest of the Black Country.

More than 20 per cent of shops are empty in West Bromwich, 17 per cent in Dudley and 19.7 per cent in Wolverhampton.

Doubled with the fact that the number of new shop openings has plummeted by 84 per cent compared to last year, it paints a rather grim picture.

High streets and town centres are the heart of our communities.

It is hard to imagine that they will disappear but many are now a shadow of their former selves.

Businesses will always make judgments on whether somewhere is an attractive place to be and if there is customer base to be profitable.

But it is also in the gift of local authorities to create positive trading environment for retailers.

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Cuts in business rates, incentives to open new premises, and free car parking would all be obvious attractions.

Shops have to fight much harder for their customers in the era of the internet and huge out-of-town retail parks.

Town centres need to offer much more than just shops. Today’s public want nice restaurants, bars, and leisure facilities such as cinemas to draw them in. Across the region there are some positive signs.

Debenhams is moving into the Mander Shopping Centre in Wolverhampton following a £25 million revamp, and there is major investment around the railway station.

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We do have to be careful that such development is not lopsided and has a detrimental impact on other businesses. While the Riverside complex in Stafford has been hailed as a major boost to the town, some retailers are reporting that trade has fallen at the top of the town around the Guildhall Shopping Centre.

On the whole, Staffordshire is performing a lot better than its Black Country neighbours. Maybe there are lessons to be learnt?

Perhaps this is an area West Midlands Mayor Andy Street should taking a lead? His experience as managing director of John Lewis could prove very useful to breathing new life in our high streets. Meanwhile, we can all play our bit by shopping in our town centres and helping the local economy.

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