It was interesting to read a recent article on the BBC website by Ian Pollock (12th February 2015) about the current ‘boom’ in Tamworth. An area that I am only really familiar with because, as a keen snowboarder, it has a SnowDome.
The article points to the positive influence that logistics companies in the area such as Ocado, TNT and UPS, together with high speed transport links to both Birmingham and London, have had on the areas wage and unemployment statistics.
In the two and a half years to September 2014, unemployment in the area fell from 9.9% to 4.7%. Full time wages also increased by over 16% in 2014 to £28,000 per annum.
High Street Gloom
The townsfolk may now be more affluent but this success does not seem to have had a pull through effect on the high street, in fact the health of the High Street would seem to be sliding at the same rate as unemployment and wages are increasing.
The Local Data Company (LDC) / Morgan Stanley Health Index provides a retail health barometer based upon 10 criteria. The index ranks town centre health from weak (1) to strong (9). Tamworth has fallen in health according to this index from 4 to 2 between 2014 and 2015 (for the town centre excluding the Ankerside Shopping Centre). This weakening health is due in the most part to the fact that the vacancy rate has increased from 13.8% to 16.8% (West Midlands average vacancy rate is 14.9%) with over 30% of these units having been vacant for more than 3 years.
Town Centre Analysis
With a total of 317 units, I would classify Tamworth as a medium sized retail centre with a higher vacancy rate than the regional and national average. The retail mix is close to the UK average with 39% of the units occupied by multiples. When looking at the classification mix against UK average, Tamworth has an oversupply of services and an undersupply of comparison and convenience. For similar sized towns, Tamworth has over double the UK average in terms of Opticians and 15 estate agents against a UK average of 9. The convenience offer in the town makes up 8% of the available stock compared to a GB average of 13%. It is also telling that outside of the Shopping Centre, Tamworth has no anchor retailers to drive footfall and attract other leisure and retail fascia’s.
So why exactly is this town centre struggling when employment and wage increases are some of the strongest in the country? Although it sits within the retail core, the Ankerside Shopping Centre would appear to have an impact on the town centre, drawing footfall to a concentrated location. Even the shopping centre is struggling however, with a Health Index score of 4, a vacancy rate of 13.8% and a high degree of persistent vacancy. No, it would seem that the greatest damage is coming from 2 areas:
- Birmingham retail centre is a relatively short commute.
- The outskirts of Tamworth has one of the UK’s most successful Retail Parks – Ventura Road.
The map below shows the impact of the shopping centre and the retail park in the retail core with most units on the high street located on the fringes of Arkenside shopping centre.
Figure 1: Map of Tamworth's retail core
Ventura Road Retail Park has a Health Index of 9 and a 0% vacancy rate. The park, with its ample free parking, is home to a plethora of anchor retailers and leisure operators providing a predominance of mass and value offerings in line with the demographic profile of the local area.
Tamworth faces the same challenges for its retail core as many other UK towns. How do you compete with the retail parks - their close proximity free parking, larger more flexible units, out of town rents and click and collect advantages? From a purely retail perspective, most experts would suggest that you can’t. A recent H2 2014 Vacancy Report from the Local Data Company (LDC) would appear to support the thinking that there is already too much retail space in the UK. Of all the vacant units tracked, 20% have been vacant for more than 3 years. This equates to almost 10,000 units that are never going to be reoccupied – the equivalent of 5 Manchester’s lying empty!
As anchor retailers move out, so new anchors are required to resurrect high streets and town centres. Quoting the Grimsey Review from September 2013, we need to “repopulate town centres as community hubs encompassing: more housing, education, arts, entertainment, business/office space, health and leisure………….…..and some shops.”
by Dave Blackie