There’s no escaping the fact that Newport’s retail market has taken a hammering since 2008. With one of the highest vacancy rates anywhere in the UK, retailers would be forgiven for ruling out the city as a possible location. However, as Dan Smith, director of M4 Property Consultants explains, they may be missing an opportunity:
The developments of Friars Walk shopping centre has brought about positive changes in Newport including new retailers such as Debenhams, Tiger, Tog 24 among others. The restaurant area has also been successful in drawing people back to the city centre, both during day and night. However, it was always going to adversely affect Commercial Street, and this has proven to be the case.
Many national and regional occupiers have delayed considering Newport until they full understand the impact Friars Walk has. In particular, how shoppers’ habits have changed in Newport; which areas benefit from good footfall and which areas have become quiet due to low footfall. There’s no doubt that Commercial Street and High Street have seen reduced footfall, but the stretch of commercial street between Austin Friar and Charles Street/Llanarth Street remains relatively busy. Hopefully this will be recognised by retailers who will help to fill vacant units.
So, what happens to other areas like High Street? Well, that’s where we believe the opportunity lies. To get shoppers to leave Friars Walk and Kingsway Shopping Centre, and venture up to High Street, shoppers must have a good reason – and retailers must provide that. Our view is that High Street, Newport Market, Market Arcade and Newport Arcade need good quality independent retailers with unique offerings; providing greater customer service and a wider range of products than anywhere else in the city.
These could be grouped around food and drink, creative arts or any other sector, but the key is to have a critical mass of these independents grouped together and appealing to a similar demographic.
One or two of these retailers will not be a strong enough presence to draw customers, but with five six independents offering unique and quality products then you’re in with a chance. Hopefully, as the area becomes known for being the ‘independent quarter’ of the city, this will further encourage other similar businesses to locate in the area.
So perhaps current circumstances present an opportunity for potential retailers in Newport to group together in the city centre and help to develop a collection of interesting, diverse and independent shops. Shops that can’t be found in Cwmbran, Cardiff or Cribbs Causeway. This would not only be good for retailers but good for Newport as a whole; helping to re-discover its lost identity.
So, our message to retailers is simply not to dismiss Newport. Yes, it has its problems, like many cities, but it also presents some economic opportunities for those willing to commit to the city, and take advantage of them.
Dan Smith is the Director of M4 Property Consultants, an independent commercial property firm operating throughout South East Wales.