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Monday, 22 December 2014

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Don’t turn Carlisle into a ghost town

Hooray! Hoopers is going, now hopefully Primark will move in... That’s a rough idea of the response of many of our readers since bosses of the department store announced they are to cease trading.

The closure will cost 83 jobs, with many staff being made redundant after decades of working there.

But the future of the store affects more than those heartbroken workers and their families.

It could have a long lasting impact on the city and the region. What happens next?

I would like to see Primark in the town – and lots and lots of other stores that aren’t fashion-based.

In these tough times, we want bargain-basement goods, we need value for money.

But I’m not being snobby when I say that we also need stores like Hoopers and House of Fraser to survive.

Hoopers may well have had too many high-end leather goods and top-end designer names on sale.

But we need shops where we can buy special one-off Christmas or birthday treats. That offer something different to the multinationals.

And there’s a more serious side to our choice of shops.

As the economy shrinks and money becomes even tighter, we have to fight even harder to attract new business to the city and the region, as well as more tourists.

But if all the county’s major city can offer by way of a shopping experience is bargain-price stores with low quality goods, it will have a knock-on effect on both these vital areas of our economy.

Of course, it could just be that Carlisle and north Cumbria is too poorly populated and just too poor to support the department stores of Hoopers, House of Fraser, Debenhams, BHS and Marks and Spencer.

Perhaps the loss of Hoopers could ensure the survival of the other stores, with their huge corporate backers.

And maybe the shock announcement by the department store has come at a perfect time.

Joe Hendry’s Labour group has just assumed power at the city council.

This is a real test of their vision for the city. How they react to this and improve Carlisle as a shopping centre and a destination for entertainment and culture (that includes the arts as well as shopping) will have a major bearing on the economic well-being of the city and the region.

They must look at new and innovative ways of encouraging shops – especially independent ones that will provide Carlisle with its own character, different from Stoke or Milton Keynes – to be able to establish themselves and thrive, whether by reviewing rates, reducing parking or offering tenancy deals.

What is certain is that some plan of action is needed to help the city centre, especially as the Kingstown development takes place.

Progressive and positive are two buzz words that politicians love to use about their ideas and vision. This is what we need now. This is what the new administration has to provide.

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