Local news has recently been concentrating on traders suffering in Chatham High Street, raising the question of whether Medway Council has failed the commercial sector or if the situation is a blip on the radar that will rectify itself before too long. Or as asked here, if the slump in trade represents a slide away from traditional forms of shopping towards online retail.
Last week’s Medway News ran with the story that Chatham High street is being strangled by the never ending roadworks. Businesses have already begun making redundancies, cutting hours and some are on the brink of closure. Guy Varley (of Varley’s Electrical Store) says their business is down by seventy percent.
The council’s regeneration scheme is being blamed, with Stephanie Humphries of clothes shop Internacionale being quoted as saying:
‘We were led to believe it (road works and diversions) would be finished by Easter, now it’s looking like the end of the year.’
Incentives like free parking or buses to get people into the town are good ideas, but may only have a limited impact. They could also represent a drain on the public purse, as the Council will have to subsidise the bus services.
Medway Council has, however, assured the people of Medway that the new bus station, due to open at the end of the summer, will bring about great change for central Medway, being easier to use and more welcoming for shoppers.
The Council also told the Medway News that they are working closely with retailers on ideas such as free parking and promotional campaigns that will encourage shoppers back into Chatham.
Although Medway Council claims that the new bus station will also rejuvenate the riverside area, what it has definitely done is to shift the locus of trade another twenty feet towards Rochester. This will probably hit the trade at the east end of town fairly hard.
Chatham town centre is already fairly dead beyond the Trafalgar centre, but the new bus station’s placement would make it even further to walk to the end of the high street than it is now. Other shops on the second floor of the Pentagon might also be hit.
Part of the reason for Chatham’s decline may be that the modern shopper no longer has the time or the inclination to hit the high street’s shops. The internet also offers attractions for retailers, with fewer staff needed, lower overheads and more profit. This is coupled with big companies’ ability to undercut small high street retailers, who still have to pay massive overheads on utilities and rent.
If there is to be a family shopping trip, many people don’t mind driving to Bluewater or even Maidstone to do their shopping. In Bluewater you can park inside, do your shopping, catch a movie, take the children to the adventure playground, and have dinner, all under one roof with a level of choice that far outstrips that available in one of Medway’s town centres.
Despite the current hardships, and the definite impact this elongated campaign of road works has had on Chatham, we have to hope that the council is right and that the new bus station will encourage more shoppers and breathe life back into the heart of Medway.
If not, then maybe it’s ‘bye bye’ Chatham and ‘hello’ Bluewater.
Photograph (c) Lisa Dillon
Re-posted in edited form from the Ginger Liberal blog