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Fashion chain 'priced out' of Cumbrian town centre

The developers responsible for Workington’s £35m shopping centre are “killing trade in the town”, it has been claimed.

By John Connell

The comments come after ladies’ fashion outlet Snob UK has pulled out of negotiations to move into the former Autonomy unit at Washington Square amid claims they had been “messed around” and “priced out of the market”.

A business setting up shop on the Risman Place unit would pay a service charge of £1,051 a year excluding VAT, £65,000 a year in rent and central Government-set rates of £21,755.

But Dave Fletcher, the town centre development manager, described the claims as a “load of rubbish”.

He said developer Riddell was “flexible” when it came to rents, adding that the Washington Square development had a “98 per cent occupancy rate” with just four empty units.

He said: “I know that the centre is managed well and that the shoppers are pleased with what they have got.

“Why would H&M spend a million pound investment if it wasn’t going to work?”

But Julie Messenger, negotiating on behalf of Port Group which owns Snob UK, disagrees.

A concessions manager for Debenhams in Washington Square, she has claimed that the rent and service charge are “way too high”.

She added: “Carlisle has got better demographic, more footfall and cheaper rent so no wonder there are empty shops in Workington.”

Her sister Karen Bailey, store manager of Cheque Centre on Murray Road, added that the developers appeared to be trying to price Washington Square as though it was a city centre not a town centre.

The women have also claimed it is much cheaper and easier to set up shop in parts of Carlisle.

“It might be if you are not in The Lanes,” said Mr Fletcher.

Mrs Messenger, who is considering launching a petition to improve the town centre, believes that developers could do more to encourage new businesses into Workington and to make it “a level playing field.”

She also thinks that other traders keen to move into the town centre may have had similar experiences.

The sisters had agreed to help Snob UK establish themselves in Cumbria because the firm had supplied them with stock when they ran their own business.

They also hoped to work for Snob UK if its bid to move to Workington proved successful.

Mrs Messenger had initially approached Dunmail Park on behalf of Port Group.

However, bosses had their set their hearts set on Risman Place close to Costa and Next because they believed it had a higher footfall than the out-of-town Dunmail Park.

Commercial property specialists Fawley Watson Booth had offered Snob UK rent of £12,000 per year but as a trade-off required the flexibility of being able to replace the tenant “should a more attractive rental offer be received.”

But Mrs Bailey said: “It’s not viable for a shop to put about £40,000 or 50,000 worth of stock into it if they chuck us out in four weeks.”

Have your say

Would be nice if they could encourage more menswear shops for the town centre. Not enough choice in west Cumbria, something like topman/topshop in the town centre would be good, and an urban outfitters, all saints etc..

Posted by Peter on 1 November 2012 at 12:42

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