Saturday, 28 November 2020

Councillors fear losing independent retailers

INDEPENDENT retailers will be forced out of Henley if it keeps losing its smaller shop units, town councillors fear.

INDEPENDENT retailers will be forced out of Henley if it keeps losing its smaller shop units, town councillors fear.

At a planning committee meeting on Tuesday last week, they said an application by Bell Street Baguettes to convert its premises into housing should be refused.

Parminder Kaur, who has owned the freehold on the Bell Street eatery since 2006, says it is too small and trade is suffering because footfall on the town centre’s outskirts is declining.

She has no firm plans to relocate but wants the freedom to do so in case a larger, more central unit becomes available. She would then fund the move by selling the existing shop to a developer.

However, councillors said this would be a further “contraction” of the town centre as two other shops on that stretch have become residential.

The adjacent Scoop second-hand dress shop became a house more than five years ago and Henley Hair and Beauty, formerly the Bear pub, got planning permission to become a flat in January.

The town council opposed the latter as it represented a loss of retail space.

Councillor Lorraine Hillier, who runs the Hot Gossip coffee house on Friday Street, Henley, told colleagues: “Losing the baguette shop unit would be a real shame as it’s small and more suited to an independent business.

“It would further erode the periphery of the town centre and concentrate all the shops into a smaller area.”

Councillor David Nimmo Smith, who also sits on South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee, said recommending refusal was “on a hiding to nowhere” as it failed to save the hair salon.

Councillor Simon Smith, the chairman, replied: “Perhaps, but we have to try something.” After the meeting, Councillor Hillier said: “It is a concern. Footfall is definitely down on Friday Street and I’m not sure why — perhaps it’s because more people shop online.

“The small, affordable units tend to be away from the main shopping streets. If we lose them, independent retailers won’t be able to set up in the town centre as it’s too expensive.

“That’s why some units are left empty for long periods. The demand is there but landlords are holding out for a big national retailer who will pay a higher rent.

“The town council is relatively powerless on planning decisions but the district council must realise we want to keep our independents. The only way to do that is to retain the smaller premises.

“I don’t think there’s any value in talking to the landlords because they will never agree to accept lower rents.”

Mrs Kaur said: “We wanted that planning permission in hand but we’ve got no intention of going anywhere at the moment.

“We just wanted to keep our options open. This side of town is basically dead after other businesses have closed and we’re getting fewer and fewer customers.

“Does the town council think it’s profitable for me to just stay here on my own? I don’t have the budget to advertise so how are people going to know about us?”

South Oxfordshire District Council will decide her application by the end of August. It is accepting comments until next Friday.

Women’s fashion shop Noa Noa in Duke Street, shut last month, whilst homeware store Hubbledays will close in August, although there are plans to convert the former into a delicatessen and café.

David Jack, who used to run both, said they were no longer viable because of a drop in trade.

Jeweller Precious Love, also of Duke Street, shut in April and is yet to be reoccupied.

The former Dalton’s estate agents in Reading Road remains vacant following the death of founder Paul Dalton last year.

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