The return of big retailers could start to turn Grimsby’s town centre around within five years.
The empty store-fronts and ever-smaller crowds of shoppers mean that this is a pivotal moment for the town’s shopping precinct.
Businessman Lawrence Brown says that it is possible for the high street to recover – but it will not happen overnight, and everyone needs to support it.
The pandemic was the final straw for several well-known brands in Grimsby, including House of Fraser, Thorntons, Monsoon and Argos, with shoppers having to use their websites instead.
However, the council hopes a new cinema, market hall and more inviting public areas will attract people back, which could draw major retailers as well.
Mr Brown, a chartered surveyor and managing partner at property firm Scotts, has laid out what went wrong for the town centre and how it could get back on its feet.
He said: “Grimsby is no different to any other town that has suffered and seen a dip in their fortunes over the last few years. Internet shopping has grown very quickly and been quick to adapt, whereas traditional retailers were less responsive.
“The pandemic emphasised what was already going on – we essentially had a government-sanctioned reduction in footfall in the town centre, which wasn’t helpful.
“The town centre is stuck in a downward cycle. People don’t visit because of the lack of variety in shops, so new retailers don’t come in, so people don’t visit. We can’t expect the private sector to step in because they won’t make a profit.
“However, the public sector spending money could make it attractive again and change it into an upward spiral where retailers are interested.
“The Towns Deal funding and the plans for a cinema and new market hall will generate real excitement.
“We need to be absolutely clear this is not going to happen overnight. The decline has been going on for years, and it will be a while before we have a vibrant town centre again – but it can happen.
“In five years’ time, I would hope that we are starting to see the benefits. The buildings should be going up and money will be spent, which always generates a spike in interest.
“The question is whether we can keep that growth sustainable and ensure retailers keep coming to Grimsby.”
However, Mr Brown says isn’t a job for the council to rejuvenate the town centre all by itself.
Instead, everyone who wants change will have to put our money where our mouths are.
“As residents, we have a collective responsibility to spend our time and money in the town centre if we want it to improve,” Mr Brown said.
“Why would shops bother to open if no one’s going to come to them?
“Hopefully, it will reach a point where people try the new cinema, which will lead them to visiting a new bar or café on Victoria Street, and they may come back the next week for an event they’ve seen advertised in St James Square. It becomes a catalyst that drives entrepreneurship back into Grimsby.”
North East Lincolnshire Council is partnering with Freshney Place to deliver a long-awaited £27 million project which will include a new cinema and market hall in Top Town.
The multi-year project will hopefully see construction finished around mid-2025.
Mr Brown believes there are more improvements that need to be made in the meantime before the area becomes inviting for families.
“A vibrant town centre won’t happen if people don’t feel safe in the town centre. 99% of residents are normal law-abiding citizens, and they don’t want to be around anti-social behaviour or crime,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter how much money we throw at the town centre if people don’t actually want to be there.
“Making St James Square into an area where people are happy to see performances and bring their families would help to making it an attractive place again.
“There’s a long way to go and a lot of hard work to be done. But if the population takes part and has an element of ownership, then it could happen.”