Town centre braced for a shopping ‘squeeze’

editorial image

TOWN centre bosses have warned of a retail ‘squeeze’ this year despite figures that show sales in Hemel Hempstead grew in the crucial Christmas period.

Sales were up 1.6 per cent year on year in December – with around £30 million going through the tills – while car park usage was up 6.5 per cent.

But the euro crisis and the loss of a number of stores including La Senza and Hawkin’s Bazaar suggests this year will be the toughest of the past few years.

Vince Williams, chairman of the town centre partnership, said: “It’s going to be a squeeze this year.

“Europe can’t sort itself out. That will have an impact on banks, which affects how much they lend.”

However, he pointed to the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics as good opportunities for retailers.

“Although it will be a challenging year I think there will be some good boosts,” he said. “Hemel just needs to promote itself a lot more.”

The figures show 3.07 million people passed through the town centre in December, which is down 0.8 per cent on the year before.

“Looking nationally at town centres around the UK, that is better than average,” Mr Williams said.

He said there should be no more pound shops in the town and called for a planned new supermarket to be sited in Market Square.

“It’s the perfect location for a supermarket,” he said.

“The number of pound shops increased last year. I think as long as it doesn’t increase further it won’t be detrimental to the town.”

Mr Williams also backed calls for an arts and entertainment venue to replace the Pavilion. “That would be central to any plan for the evening economy,” he said.