Blenheim’s vacant shops problem still not solved

  • Property
  • February 18, 2016
  • Elly Strang
Blenheim’s vacant shops problem still not solved

Increasingly noticeable store vacancies lining the main centre is never a good look, as it gives off the impression of the town being abandoned.

This means both investors and customers look elsewhere to open their businesses or go shopping.

As part of the 2016 Marlborough Town Centre Health Check survey, pedestrians were interviewed about whether they thought the Blenheim town centre had improved.

They were divided right down the middle, with 50 percent noticing positive changes.

However, a further 25 percent said the town centre had deteriorated, while 22 percent said there’d been no change.

The Malborough council said in the survey that creating “pocket parks” and improving empty building sites had improved pedestrian routes, as well as the state of the environment.

But despite changes, several stores in Blenheim have shut down in the past month, including The Christian Book Store and Music Centre on Maxwell Rd.

Retail deteriorating any further would prove to be detrimental to the town centre, considering the survey found the reason people most often visit it is to shop (68 percent).

A further 46 percent visit it to dine out or go to cafés, while 39 percent visit it to go to the supermarket.

First Retail managing director Chris Wilkinson says the situation in Blenheim needs a strategic, commercially driven and “retail aware” approach.

He says the Council needs to stand back and seek independent expertise.

“Typically when Councils try to drive strategy, progress is slowed, which may explain why Blenheim is still talking while other towns have accelerated strategy and are now reaping the benefits of integrated strategy,” Wilkinson said.

Blenheim has been very focused on a Business Improvement District (BID) strategy, he says.

This involves landlords paying a targeted rate, such as 20 cents per dollar, which goes towards promoting or enhancing the local area. Stakeholders decide how the money is spent.

Wilkinson says BIDs aren’t the universal answer to strengthening a town centre, as town centre associations can help too, or a hybrid of both.

The hybrid approach enables the town to act quicker, he says, which is crucial given the rapidly changing retail, hospitality and tourism sectors.

Overall, he says there’s “too much hui, and not enough doey”.

“Blenheim has highly engaged business owners, some of which are also property owners. The problem is that these businesses and others who would be keen to be involved need some independent perspective and advocacy to achieve greater cut through,” he says.

These kind of problems prone to provincial town retail are happening all over New Zealand, not just in Blenheim.

Wainuiomata, a suburb in Lower Hutt, is also a town experiencing difficulty in retail.

Its shopping centre has been plagued by problems, such as a leaky roof and declining population, but no moves have been made yet to help solve the problem.

Whanganui is also raising concerns, with TV3 journalist Duncan Garner visiting it last year and labelling it a “city in decline”, as there were 35 empty shops for lease in the city centre.

In stark contrast to Blenheim, the other town included in the Marlborough Town Centre Health Check survey, Picton, had reduced its number of empty shops since 2014, going from 14 to eight.

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