Lib Dem City Councillors Katie Porrer and Tim Bick are campaigning to save key shops in the Grafton area in response to the plans of new property owners.
Ownership of much of the area has changed hands within the last 12 months, with Trinity Investment Management acquiring the Grafton Centre and most of the properties in Fitzroy Street and Brydell Partners acquiring other Fitzroy Street and some Burleigh Street properties. Ward councillors have met with both new owners to hear about their plans.
They learned that both owners are intending to reduce the amount of retailing and to let much of the space gained for workplaces, including laboratories in the life sciences sector, of which there is a shortage in and around the city. They see this as a response to the general decline of high street retailing, but intend that the area continues to offer a smaller amount, kept sustainable by the footfall of people going to workplaces there.
The change has come into focus from Brydell’s planning application for the 2-14 Fitzroy Street block, revealing that they intend to replace two popular existing shops, Greggs and Waitrose with laboratory workspace.
The Market Ward Lib Dems are campaigning with surrounding residents for the continuation of food and household shopping, including Waitrose and Greggs. They are gathering signatures on a petition, calling on the two new owners to work together to secure the future of such shops.
Cllr Bick said:
“Given the general state of the high street, it's probably unavoidable that a centre like this one undergoes change. The large number of vacant shopfronts underlines the point, and if nothing is done there will be a downward spiral from which it is difficult to rescue much at all.
"We don’t have a problem in principle with new uses such as laboratory workspace for start-ups and more mature businesses, so long as their activities don’t conflict with surrounding residential areas. In principle this could help to make a reduced number of retail shops viable. It would be appealing for employees coming to work in these new spaces to have a range of convenience shops.
“But it's vital that there is some sensible joined up thinking about what is retained. From the outside, the Grafton area is regarded as the city's secondary destination shopping centre, but for the residential community of the Kite and Brunswick areas, it includes their neighbourhood shops, in a way the historic centre never would. There is a huge loyalty to many of these shops. Residents recall the shops' support to them during the pandemic. It would be very upsetting if this was to be broken up by the new corporate owners.
“We think there is an identity of interest between the local neighbourhood and the workforce of the new laboratories. Both need convenience and household shopping and both together have the purchasing power to continue to make such shops viable and attractive to retailers.
“It is terrible that the government’s deregulation of planning means that a change of use from retailing to laboratory workspace no longer requires any planning permission, so we are fighting our campaign with one hand tied behind our backs. All we have is persuasion. Initial meetings suggest that the owners are willing to listen and co-operate, but this is early days. Our petition is a means of demonstrating the support there is for household and food convenience shopping within the centre, which will help our discussions with the new owners."
We call on the new and existing commercial property owners in the Grafton area to work together to ensure the continued presence and viability of a range of convenience shops for households within the area, including household food and groceries.