Fleetwood’s high street is dying a painful death and desperately needs some help to revive its fortunes, it was claimed this week.
In a stark warning about the town centre, some traders say Fleetwood’s business heart is declining at such an alarming rate it may never fully recover.
Traders say a combination of untidy individual shops which are still trading but are scruffy, long-term empty shops, a neglected feel to the streets and even an influx of undesirables from outside Fleetwood have led to a town centre fewer and fewer people want to visit.
There are too many charity shops and bookies and not enough quality stores which people would want to visit, is another gripe.
Although there have long been such concerns and the issue is not new, some feel things are getting worse.
There are too many shops, not just the ones which are empty but those which are occupied, which look untidy and create a bad impression
With Fleetwood’s biggest showcase, Tram Sunday, coming up on July 19, this year’s scarecrow festival is a conscious effort to boost the town centre, but many feel the longer term woes need to be addressed.
Arti Abbott, at Pricewise at the south end of Lord Street, said: “The town centre is almost dead and something needs to be done before it is too late. It is dying.
“Fewer people are coming into town and we have noticed it.
“Last year at this time, we would be selling so many iced slushes we would make up to £50 or £60 a day. Now we average £10 or £12 a day on the same products.
“We are even closing an hour earlier at night.
“There is talk about the new fish park. If something isn’t done, we will have a fish park and no Lord Street.”
Mrs Abbott, who has run the shop with her husband for more than a decade, believes local authority Wyre Council could help by offering incentives to new businesses such as discounts on business rates, by repairing the Lofthouse clock’s chipped paving and broken chime - and sprucing the town up generally.
And she added: “What can the council do to try and attract businesses like Primark, Greggs and even Ikea? Even a small cinema offering discount prices would help get visitors in.”
Caroline Boot, of giftware shop Forget-Me-Not, further up Lord Street said: “Our town centre has gone down and down.
“One thing that could help would be private landlords lowering their rent. Having fewer overheads would be a massive help in getting bright new shops in, because if they’re not sure of their profit margins they just won’t come in.”
There thoughts were echoed by Paul Haslam, of men’s fashion store Northern Rags on Poulton Street, who runs a “shop local” loyalty card scheme to keep Fleetwood folk shopping in town.
He said: “The rents need to be lower.
“What would these landlords rather have – a rotting, dusty empty shop which is costing them business rates but bringing them no money at all, or a business paying its way every week, at a lower rent?”
And traders Mike Sanderson and Derek Easton have blasted some businesses in the town which are making no effort to keep their premises in a fit state.
Mr Sanderson, who runs Mike Sanderson Electricals and has an interest in Angela Sanderson Interiors, said: “Lord Street is a disgrace at the moment, and it is unacceptable.
“There are too many shops, not just the ones which are empty but those which are occupied, which look untidy and create a bad impression.
“Fleetwood is unique in that it is the only town in Britain to have a tram running all the way along the main shopping centre, but what must visitors think when they see Lord Street?
“It now looks more like a back alley than a high street.
“More should be done to get certain traders tidying them up. Until Lord Street is tidied up, I feel I don’t want to upgrade my own premises and I feel like upping sticks and leaving altogether.”
Mr Sanderson said Fleetwood’s Labour councillors should be doing more and raising issues at Wyre Council, calling their efforts “toothless”.
Lord Street is in Pharos ward – one of the most deprived in the country.
Ward councillor Terry Rogers said he sympathised with the problems suffered by traders.
He said: “It is very difficult to attract businesses to the ward.
“The big shops see how deprived the area is and it puts them off. One of the things I would like to see is cheaper rents for new shops during their first 12 months.
“We need more variety in Fleetwood, such as children’s clothes shops, but we will only get that if the council and traders are confident and do everything we can to promote the area. The traders are having an extremely hard time, but the high street is in decline throughout the UK.
“The only way forward is if we show some confidence, offer lower rents to attract new shops and give shoppers what they want – variety.
“There are far too many charity shops, which pay reduced business rates.”
Mr Eaton, who runs the Lighthouse Stationers on North Albert Street, said: “I can tell you the very shops need tidying up. They are a disgrace and should be made to sort their places out. We have all this investment on the seafront and they are letting it all down.”
And a number of other traders have even voiced concerns that people from “out-of town” seem to be adding to Fleetwood’s woes.
One trader, who did not wish to be named, said: “People who don’t really care about Fleetwood are being dumped here from other areas and they are just adding to our problems.
“There are people hanging around the town centre who are scaring decent shoppers away and are very intimidating. It is the last thing we need.”
And another trader added: “I have seen people shooting-up drugs in the town centre. It’s just bringing this town down.”