Newcastle’s Labour MP Paul Farrelly has stepped in with a last-ditch plea to save two important town centre stores which are facing closure next month.
Mr Farrelly has written to Sir Philip Green, owner of the Arcadia Group, in an attempt to secure the future of both the Burton and Evans fashions shops in the town’s Ironmarket.
He described Burton the Tailor as an ‘iconic’ brand going back generations in Newcastle. The imminent closure, he said, was all too indicative of the Government’s failure to produce a coherent growth strategy to lift the economy out of double-dip recession.
Both Newcastle shops are scheduled to close their doors for the last time in September when the lease on both properties expires and Mr Farrelly said their loss - coming after several other High Street closures in the downturn - would be a severe blow to Newcastle.
In his letter, Mr Farrelly offered to intervene in negotiations between Arcadia and its landlord and also urged the company to open discussions with Newcastle Borough Council to try and find alternative retail premises.
“The message is a clear: Newcastle, like lots of places up and down the country, is struggling and we must pull out all the stops to help our town centre,” he said.
“Both these shops are familiar faces in the town and their demise will be felt with sadness and some nostalgia. I remember my first suit coming from Burtons in Newcastle in the late 1970s – my grandfather bought it for me out of his savings for my university interviews.
“We cannot afford to lose more shops and I will do all I can to work with the company, the Council and Newcastle’s new Town Centre Partnership to find a way forward.”
Newcastle has recently submitted two bids to become a ‘Portas Pilot’ town, seeking government funds to revitalise town centres. The £1 million plus fund was established following a review of High Street prospects by retail consultant Mary Portas and after regeneration agencies were scrapped by Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2010. Both Newcastle bids, however, were unsuccessful.
“It is a disgrace that the Government has rebuffed Newcastle on both occasions, without providing any reasons or meaningful feedback, as far as I am aware.
“Any investment would certainly have helped a situation that is a direct result of the failures of the Government’s own economic policies. It is long overdue for David Cameron and Nick Clegg to adopt a plan B economic strategy to restore demand by giving consumers the confidence to spend in our shops. Sadly, though, there is little evidence that they are even listening,” Mr Farrelly said.
“In Newcastle, their failure has sadly been compounded by the previous Borough Council’s shopping spree with Newcastle’s financial reserves - £50 million in six years of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition here – leaving nothing left in the kitty for harder times,” Newcastle’s MP added.
You can view Mr Farrelly's letter in full by clicking here.
News of the Newcastle shop closures followed Arcadia’s announcement earlier this summer that its pre-tax profits had plummeted from £213.1million last year to £133.1million this year.
Mr Farrelly moved to write to Sir Philip after learning that the company was unlikely to renew its leases on the two shops, which are located only yards apart in the heart of the town.
“I understand that some of the staff affected will be redeployed but others will lose their jobs and that is a tragedy for them personally. I am sure, though, that they, too, could keep their jobs if other premises can be found in the town centre,” Mr Farrelly said.
The MP will be meeting the new Town Centre Partnership shortly to discuss initiatives to help Newcastle. The new Labour-controlled Council has also recently fulfilled a manifesto pledge, after taking over in May this year, to appoint a specific Town Centre Manager – a move turned down by the previous administration despite all the difficulties evident on the High Street.
In 2010, before the general election Mr Farrelly was also instrumental in getting the Government to order a public enquiry into Tesco’s plans to double the size of its Trent Vale store, because of the likely effect on shops in Newcastle’s town centre.
The supermarket giant lost the battle – which would have seen a store like its huge new ‘Tesco Extra’ in Hanley – after a planning inspector sided with the MP, the Borough Council and protesters.