Published: 06:00, 29 June 2020
Retail bosses have indicated turning empty shops into restaurants will help revitalise a city centre during the incredibly tough economic climate.
NewRiver, the management firm running Whitefriars in Canterbury, says there is a demand for more food operators in the city.
It says the suppression of the retail market will result in vacant units - and the city must continue to adapt to keep its footfall at a high level.
It comes as an application to turn the soon-to-be-vacant Game store, on the fringes of Whitefriars, into a restaurant has been submitted to the council’s planning team.
NewRiver says the change of use will be a positive for Canterbury and alludes to the prospect of more food outlets opening in the top end of the city centre.
NLJ Consulting, acting on behalf of the management firm, said: “There is an active asset management strategy for Canterbury, and the need to deliver a resilient mixed use asset is no more apparent than at the present time given the ongoing difficulties in the retail market.
“Due to the lack of demand from A1 [retail] operators in the area, and expected demand suppression in the coming months, this will result in vacancies.
“There is, however, demand from A3 [food] operators but to accommodate such uses will require a change of use.
“Like many town and city centres, attracting high street retailers continues to be problematic, has seen limited demand from key occupiers in the fashion, accessories and homeware market and any acquisitive tenants only taking on new retail floorspace which meets their exacting requirements.
“Canterbury city centre continues to adapt but there is an ongoing need to continue to revitalise the centre and build on the strong visitor and tourism economy. This includes taking targeted action to ensure existing space remains fit for purpose, particularly in those areas away from the core retail pitch.”
NewRiver, which took over management of Whitefriars in November 2018, says such action has proved successful elsewhere in the country.
“NewRiver’s experience in shopping centre management has brought new leisure operators to several sites which in turn has significantly increased footfall and dwell time to the benefit of the city centre overall,” it says.
“Without the change of use many of the existing A1 [retail] units would have remained vacant.”
The future of empty stores such as the recently-vacated Monsoon Accessorize and Clintons are currently unclear.
Game, however, is set is to be transformed into a food outlet. The gaming firm indicated it was planning to leave the city centre back in January last year, but the unit, next to KFC and Caffé Nero, has been on the market ever since.
It is described as being “simply not attractive to the retail market” due to its hidden location behind the clocktower. Yet, there has been interest from a number of food operators.
Planning documents state an “established and growing” chain will be taking on the St George’s Street unit, with 30 full-time jobs being created.
'Canterbury continues to adapt but there is an ongoing need to continue to revitalise the centre...'
The proposals have concerned city shopper Ilda Hudson, who says Canterbury could become too food-centric.
She says the likes of Westwood Cross and Bluewater with their free parking will be even more of an appeal for shoppers.
“Concerned that Canterbury appears to be losing its role as the regional shopping centre of this part of Kent,” she said.
“I am concerned at the retail offer in the city and the fact you are losing chains as a council left, right and centre.
“Eventually, other than for food, personally I will just go to Bluewater.”
Elsewhere in the city, a string of other vacant retail units are being eyed up by food and drink operators.
The old Currys store in Longmarket is planned to become a Slug & Lettuce late-night bar, while Greek coffee chain Mikel wants to open up in the old Kennedy’s shoe shop and Japanese fast food firm Kokoro is set to launch in the former Change Group store next to The Works.