Grantham will see more than £225 million of investment in retail, but it won’t be in the town centre. Instead, this weeksaw a second outlet village approved off the A1, which objectors have warned could be the death-knell of the high street. Oldrids and Downtown’s £125 million designer outlet centre at Gonerby Moor will have 107 units, while Rioja and Buckminster’s competing £100 million version nearby, which was approved in 2018, will have 130. So could these outlet villages on the outskirts of Grantham spell the end of the town’s high street offer? And will they able to survive against each other?
In the planning process for the latest development, Rioja and Buckminster tried their utmost to put down its opponent, claiming it wouldn’t attract top brands due to the location and the existing offer. But is this really the case?
County Councillor Colin Davie said this is all part of work from multiple authorities to turn Grantham into a “huge centre for growth,” and he’s confident it will work. “You can manage everything if you plan it carefully and I’m sure my colleagues in SKDC are going to make sure these two work together to strengthen Grantham as an economic centre for the future.”
But can two huge designer outlet centres survive within a few miles of each other? And will they kill off the town centre? Well, yes and no, according to Sleaford-based business expert Clare Bailey.
She said that, if done well, the two outlets will “bounce off one another”. She acknowledged visitors may be diluted between the two, but said the combination could be a destination for shoppers.
“I’m more likely to go to York or Bicester because it’s got more choice. There’s a gravitational pull and it’s worth the journey because you can make a day of it. Some people may stay for whole weekends.”
She acknowledged that Downtown might not attract the brands they are looking for, but said that’s not a bad thing either. “They’re not in competition with each other, if you want a brand you’ll buy a brand, if you want a discount you’ll shop around.”
She, like economy chiefs in Lincoln and Boston, accepts the face of high streets is changing and disagrees outlet centres will kill it off. “They’re actually two completely different things,” Clare said, adding that in fact more people may be enticed into Grantham to stay or see the sights.
“In reality, there’s the possibility this might boost the town centre. People might come in and spend money in the local hotel. There are things the town centre can do to promote themselves to the new visitors,” she added.
She believes the “growth area” of the high street now is less about the kind of shops you might get in outlet centres and more about convenience and services. “In fact, these centres are more likely to be in competition with online stores such as eBay or Amazon than the high street,” she said.
Clare disagreed with conditions such as the “no poaching” agreement that was put on the centres regarding high street retailers, and said that it discourages competition and could end up only haemorrhaging money for the businesses who wish to move location. She also disputed high street shops will remain empty for long — instead they will be filled with services that people will want.
And if you’re thinking of complaining that there are too many coffee shops, or charity shops, Claire believes people are speaking with their wallets: if there wasn’t a need, the businesses wouldn’t be surviving and thriving.
— by Local Democracy Reporters Daniel Jaines and Calvin Robinson