A survey to find out if national retailers would be interested in coming to Newton Aycliffe has resulted in a poor response.
As part of Great Aycliffe Town Council’s Neighbourhood Plan, the local authority secured funding from the Department of Communities and Local Government to commission a special report.
Commercial property agents Sanderson Weatherall, which has an office in Stockton, was tasked with surveying retailers and leisure firms up and down the country after retail came out as one of the biggest concerns in the Neighbourhood Plan.
But after speaking to 139 retailers, only 9% of them (less than 13) even replied, with four expressing an interest.
And three of the four who expressed an interest said they would consider an out-of-town development.
It makes for grim reading for Aycliffe residents who want better retail provision in the town or even a new retail development on Aycliffe Business Park.
But Sanderson Wetherall insist all is not lost.
The report, seen by Aycliffe Today, says: “The aim of the commission was to have direct contact with retail operators to see if there was interest in the town, to quantify this interest and find out if the current town centre or alternative sites would be in demand.
“We were also seeking to discover from retailers if there was anything that could be done to encourage interest in the location.
“The soft market testing involved contacting a variety of retailers utilising our own database of contacts generated from our expertise as retail agents across the UK and within the North East.
“Overall the response from retailers was poor with only 9% of retailers willing to complete the full questionnaire.
“As we have already stated it can be difficult to engage with end users unless there is a firm proposal for them to respond to, for example, a new retail development proposal which has achieved planning permission or has had an application submitted.
“Even without such a proposition we would have expected a much greater response for a location where there is latent retailer demand and we consider the level of response is an indicator that there is not significant demand.
“Our analysis of results obtained does need to be taken in the context of a small number of responses and can easily be influenced by a single respondent.
“Of the three parties who expressed interest, the food & grocery and the footwear retailer expressed interest in an out of town location.
“The clothing retailer (sportswear and equipment) had previously considered the location but would only consider on a low-cost deal due to limited turnover projections.
“In conclusion there is no evidence to support additional retail space based upon the response to the soft market testing exercise.
“This is not surprising given the general trends towards fewer better sites and retailers’ unwillingness to open new stores close to existing as they ‘cannibalise’ the existing trade.
“We would suggest that even though there is not enough demand to justify additional retail space some follow up work should be undertaken from the four specific retailers who expressed an interest in Newton Aycliffe.
“In our view two of these are firm interest in the location and two are tentative interest which should be encouraged to see what measures could be taken to secure that interest. We would be willing to facilitate dialogue with these parties.
“All stakeholders need to be proactive to improve the retail core and retain existing occupiers and provide an environment which will encourage new retailers.”
In concluding, the report adds: “We must stress that this is a snap shot in time and there may be benefit in repeating this exercise in the future particularly as and when significant industrial and residential development occurs which could change the characteristics of the area and potentially make this a more attractive location for retailers.”