09:00AM, Friday 04 April 2014
There are long-term signs the number of empty shops in Maidenhead could reduce - but things could be worse before they get better.
That is the view of Maidenhead town manager Steph James after figures showed there are more empty units than the national average and more than double that of neighbouring Windsor.
Maidenhead’s vacancy rate stands at 14.8 per cent which is nine per cent higher than Windsor and higher than the 11.1 per cent national average.
The numbers could rise with 41 per cent of leases in the South East up for renewal in 2015.
Steph has said that some of the units included in the current figures are classed as not fit for occupation and will be demolished, leaving space to invest in new buildings.
The high number of leases set to expire across the region is linked to the number of 25-year leases signed in the late 1980s and another rush of 15-year terms signed in the late 1990s.
Steph says businesses now sign much shorter leases, usually of about five years, and look for flexibility because of changing habits.
"Retailers might be looking to shrink their retail portfolios because more people are shopping online," she added.
However, Steph says Maidenhead is also evolving and looking at different ways to make it attractive for shoppers and traders.
Footfall in the town centre during 2013 improved by 107,744 to reach a total of 6,105,493.
It followed a sharp drop of 467,672 between the 2011 total of 5,997,749 and 2012's numbers of 6,465,421.
Steph said hard work has gone into staging more markets and events in and around the High Street. The Art on the Street markets have been a huge success.
The increase in temporary or 'pop-up' shops also offers a short-term solution to make use of empty shops and help support entrepreneurism.
Steph added: "We need a mix of multiple and independents. We also want something that offers something a bit different and quirky.
"Town centres are changing as people are shopping differently.
"I don’t think they are dying but they are changing."
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