Empty shops prompt Wallingford traders into action

Herald Series: The former Waitrose store in St Martin's Street The former Waitrose store in St Martin's Street

ONE in 10 shops in Wallingford town centre are now standing empty, according to a new survey.

The latest figures have prompted traders’ leaders to urge developers to take on the former Waitrose site in St Martin’s Street.

The survey by South Oxfordshire District Council in January revealed that out of 140 shops in the town, 15 were empty – 10.7 per cent.

That figure was up from 10 in 2011 and nine in 2012 and has marked Wallingford as one of the worst in the survey of Oxfordshire’s market towns.

By comparison, the percentage of empty shops in Faringdon was just 1.5 per cent, Wantage has 6.4 per cent, Abingdon has 8.4 per cent, Witney has 2.4 per cent and Oxford has 4.8 per cent.

Civic leaders are hopeful the imminent sale of the former Waitrose shop, which has been empty for eight years, will help boost town centre trade.

Although the old 15,000sq ft supermarket in St Martin’s Street only counts as one empty shop, three nearby are thought to have shut down as a result of Waitrose closing to move to the other end of the street.

John Carroll, director of local property company Carroll and Partners, said: “Wallingford probably comes out of this appallingly. I imagine it is because of the economic climate, and it has been hard to find someone to take on the old Waitrose site.”

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However, he added that a sale of the site from The Co-operative Group to a developer consortium is “imminent”.

The site was given planning permission in November to turn it into three shops and seven flats.

Mayor of Wallingford Bernard Stone said: “It is a reality that some shops are closing, but I do not want to paint a poor picture of Wallingford.

“If you stand in Market Place you would never notice that, it looks thriving and bustling.

“There are some empty units when you get further away from the centre though.”

Wallingford in Business spokeswoman Elaine Hornsby said: “Some of the shops have been empty for a long time.

“Until the Waitrose site is redeveloped there is a chance that the proportion of empty shops won’t change, but having that site redeveloped would regenerate our town.

“I think things are looking up now.”

She added that landlords are sometimes demanding rents of £19,000 a year which she believed was too high.

Mr Carroll estimated an average-sized shop in Wallingford’s Market Place costs about £16,000 to £20,000 a year to rent.

Town councillor Lynda Atkins said: “I think it is one of those things that fluctuates and because Wallingford is not that big it looks quite bad.

“Two years ago we were doing quite well – we had a dip for a bit, but things are looking promising now.

“Wallingford is a good place to do business.”

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