SWINDON Council has rejected the idea of pop-up shops as a method of bringing life to the town centre.
Instead, they have committed to the plan of using a grant of £10,000 from the Mary Portas project to develop themed markets throughout the year to attract shoppers.
The move has brought criticism from the Labour Group who say pop-up shops – traders who set up in vacant premises on reduced rents – would be a great way of filling empty units and argue there is demand from traders eager to fill the spaces.
However, this has been disputed by the cabinet member for regeneration who says the town centre is on the up and also questions the economic viability of pop-up shops.
Labour’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for North Swindon, Coun Mark Dempsey (Lab, Walcot and Park North), says he has been in regular contact with people eager to open pop-up shops who are disappointed at the decision.
He said: “I share people’s disappointment that once again the Tories have failed to take action to help breathe new life into Swindon town centre. “Across Swindon people say the same thing – that in the town centre the Tories have failed. “You can visibly notice the increase in vacant units on Regent Street and Fleet Street. Some areas are becoming a ghost town.
“That’s why we need pop-up shops as part of a plan to regenerate the town centre. “Pop-up shops bring empty shops back to life, they get new businesses going, and they unleash our young retail entrepreneurs on to our high street.
“I have been approached by a range of people that are really keen to make pop-up shops a reality. “I passed these onto the Tories in the spirit of cross party working, but they have done nothing. And the decision by cabinet shows how on the town centre, the Tories are out of touch.”
This point of view is disputed by Coun Garry Perkins (Con, Shaw), the cabinet member for regeneration, who believes that talking down the town centre will not help traders.
He said: “We have invested a lot in growing the town centre, so to say we have abandoned it is not true. Talking down the town centre is what causes problems.
“There has been significant investment in the area. You only have to look at Regent Circus to see this. “Footfall in the town centre is up on the previous year, so it is simply not true to say the town centre is failing.”
Coun Perkins also said there are a number of reasons why he does not believe pop-up shops are a viable option for Swindon.
“There is little evidence in the long-run that pop-up shops can hold their own when opened up to a full market,” he said.
“In Calne there were three pop-ups which closed shortly after having to run in a normal business market.
“Shops do not stay empty in Swindon for that long. Only 15.8 per cent of shops in the town centre are empty now compared with 21.3 per cent last year.”