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Opinion split on bringing shops back to Carlisle's Botchergate

Apparently, Carlisle is one of the worst places in the region for having high numbers of vacant shops.

Botchergate photo

According to the Local Data Company, 18.6 per cent of the city’s shops were empty at the end of 2010. Which is a 3.9 per rise on the year before.

Mike Mitchelson, leader of Carlisle City Council, was skeptical about the accuracy of the report.

He accepts that there are “secondary sites” such as Lonsdale Street and Botchergate where there are a fair few boards over windows.

Mr Mitchelson was staunch in his defence of the pedestrianised city centre area though.

Pointing out that it continues to attract investment from existing businesses such as Hoopers and House of Fraser, plus interest from companies that could potentially open branches in Carlisle, like Primark.

Botchergate is in all probability responsible for Carlisle’s high average of vacant shops.

No-one knows this better than the people who work in the few that are left.

Glen Mumberson, 27, has been the manager of the Knoxwood Wildlife Trust charity shop for the last four years.

He said: “It’s ticking over but we have to keep knocking the prices down because folk won’t spend much money, and we’re getting less and less donations as well.

“Obviously, if they invested some money into Botchergate we would do better, we all would.

“They used to say that you can be born and die on Botchergate and never need to leave because it had anything you needed. It’s not like that now.

“We tend to get a lot more old folk than younger folk coming down here, then every so often in influx of students who take a wander down.”

There have been moves to return Botchergate to its former state.

The most recent being the restoration of the Edwardian-era Stanley Hall.

Bob McKnight and his son Wayne bought the building for £360,000 in December and have since spent a further £150,000 on renovations.

They plan to keep the hall as a long term investment and so far it’s looking good.

The shops fronts have been spruced up and 25 one-bedroomed student flats will be ready for occupation by the time the University of Cumbria starts back.

All of the commercial units have now been let, one of them to Crag’s Country Bakery.

Nan and Ron Garrigle, who run the bakery, say business is promising.

Nan said: “We’ve only been open for four or five weeks but we’re getting regulars.

“I think if more shops open then people will come.

“A lot of people have been saying that they’re pleased to see a bakery open and that they’d like to see more shops open in Botchergate. There are a lot of people who live in this area.”

Alan Thompson has been running the nearby Music Box & Gamez for the last 18 years.

He’s pleased Stanley Hall is being revamped, but is waiting to see what happens when all the units open before he gets his hopes up.

The Music Box, which sells CDs, vinyl, games and DVDs does a steady trade in store and also sells on-line,

Alan said: “We’re a successful business, people come to us from the likes of Dumfries and Whitehaven. I think what’s kept us going is the fact that we’re a specialist shop. We feel like we keep Botchergate alive, we’ve stuck here through the rough times.”

Regardless of the likelihood of a Botchergate revival, not everyone thinks the attempts are necessarily a good thing in the first place.

Michael Cummins, 53, of the London Road area, remembers the old Botchergate but thinks it’s now best left to the bars and takeaways.

He prefers a centralised shopping area, mainly because of the numbers of vehicles on the roads. Michael said: “You should keep all the shops in one bit – down that end there’s no traffic.”

The fact that the streets outside the big high street names, and local independent shops, are pedestrianised is seen as a major plus by many.

And the layout of the city centre is exactly what brings Grace Murphy, 76, and her niece Joyce Tomnay from Glasgow to Carlisle.

Joyce, 65, said: “We’ve come here every year for the last five years, we stay in the Crown & Mitre, we come just for the shopping.

“It’s more compact than Glasgow, you can walk from one end to the other, and if you’re a bit disabled, there’s lots of seats.

“You can go into a shop and come out and have a bit of a sit down before you go into the next one.”

Alan Oakley, 62, of Dalston is a happy local shopper. He said: “I actually think this part of Carlisle is superb for shopping. I wouldn’t really know much about Botchergate, it’s not really a place I frequent.

“I think you can try to be too many things to too many people but we have everything we need within this area.”

Elaine Bell, the owner of Alternative agrees. Her independent gift shop has been thriving in Carlisle for 26 years.

Until May it was based on Lonsdale Street then Elaine decided the time was right to move. Now Alternative occupies a prime spot under the old town hall.

Elaine is not convinced that hopes of a Botchergate revival need to come true in order for the city to tempt locals and tourist into spending some money.

She told the News & Star: “We had very successful trading on Lonsdale Street, we’ve got amazingly loyal customers, it’s just that this became available.

“Moving into the centre you get more tourists and visitors. If you’re new to Carlisle you might not find your way to Lonsdale Street.

“It’s amazing to see how many tourists we do get here, every day there’s another busload. Our first customer this morning was a woman who’d seen something in the window when she arrived then she came back when we opened to buy it.

“I think Carlisle does pretty well now, people don’t seem to feel the need to go shopping to Newcastle as much anymore.

“The price of fuel may have something to do with it as well.

“What’s happened to Botchergate is what happens everywhere – city centres move. We’ve got a great city centre now, why fight it?

“The catchment population for Carlisle is about 120,000, so how many shops can it support? You’ve got to be sensible.”

However, Paul Leith, 65, of Etterby is a strong believer in the motto that everything can be improved.

He wishes that the old lanes hadn’t been demolished in the late 70s, and thinks that it’s the extras that make a city centre – such as places for the arts.

Paul mainly sticks to Marks & Spencers, HMV and WH Smith.

He’s fairly happy with his options, however he does feel that the younger end of the city could be better catered for.

A prominent cultural statement would be welcomed too.

Paul said: “We need something like the Angel of the North, a big sculpture.

“Maybe a giant gnome then we could call it the Denton Gnome.”

Have your say

Reatil parks, and out of town supermarkets, have sucked the lifeblood out of shopping areas. in the future pple will look back on the madness that is retails shopping parks, and wonder why they ever existed at all.

Posted by John on 18 August 2011 at 22:49

"who actually owns the derelict properties on botchergate?" - Persimmon Housebuilders own the derelict block between South Henry Street and Rydal Street. Maybe they should be made to develop these sites (there is a permission for flats with shops underneath) before they are allowed to develop the easy green field sites.

Posted by Jean on 10 August 2011 at 12:55

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