Despite recent departures from the town’s ‘high street’, the district’s economic development experts are saying Sleaford is on the up.
A footfall survey by consultants for North Kesteven District Council has just revealed the number of people shopping in Sleaford has risen year on year as the town benefits from a comparatively high level of occupancy by locally distinct independent retailers.
The first figures using the cameras show a 4.6 per cent increase in footfall along Southgate. This represents an increase of almost 10,000 movements, up from 191,848 in July 2015 to 200,705 in July 2016. Typical weekly footfall is in excess of 45,000 and on Saturday July 18, 2016, the busiest day of the month, there were 9,515 people strolling up and down. Busiest day of the week is Friday and busiest time of the week is around 11am on a Saturday.
NKDC is monitoring trading conditions as it works more closely with traders to rejuvenate the town centre.
Coun Leader, Marion Brighton, said a key aspiration, working alongside county and town councils, is to introduce some level of pedestrianisation to Southgate.
She said: “Sleaford is unusual in having so much traffic flowing through its high street and it is clear that towns which have pedestrianisation are in a stronger position to encourage shoppers to linger longer and spend more.
“At this stage we are only looking into the possibilities, opportunities and challenges surrounding this idea, but it is something which we know both traders and residents are keen on in order to improve the environment and encourage a more leisurely shopping experience.”
Sleaford’s high proportion of independent shops is also seen as protection against swings in the general trading fortunes of large companies.
At the last calculation there were 139 independent retailers engaged in A1 retail – shops, hairdressers, travel agents, pet shops, showrooms – throughout the town centre, against 29 national retailers.
Within this sector only 6.6 per cent of the available units were vacant, which is half the level of the national average for A1 retail use (13.2 per cent). Most of these are within the Riverside Precinct, which is poised to be redeveloped by its owners, and at the southern end of Southgate where a planning application is pending on redevelopment of the old Job Centre. Meanwhile a number of new independent businesses have opened recently and are said to be thriving in Market Place and Millstream Square.
A total of 31 hairdressers and beauty salons make up 22 per cent of A1 retail shop use.
NKDC is developing more smaller units for fledgling independents through a partnership to revitalise the Corn Exchange and Bristol Arcade.
It is arranging a retailers’ workshop in October to help maximise Christmas trading opportunities. It is co-funding a grant-fund to enable the regeneration of historic shop fronts and has just set up a new pop-up-shop initiative to help new traders test the market.
It is also urging developers and landlords to introduce more large units which would suit incoming retail opportunities, especially for national retailers, and support growing enterprises.
“All organisations are committed to working together for the good of Sleaford,” said Coun Brighton.