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Nottingham Post
Nottingham Post
Oliver Pridmore

Affordable housing call as uncertainty continues for Nottinghamshire's high streets

A business expert says more affordable housing would be a good use of space in Nottinghamshire's town and city centres as some economic uncertainty continues into the new year. Changes to high streets across Nottinghamshire were seen throughout 2022, with several shops and hospitality venues closing due to issues including inflation and the consequential squeeze on customer spending.

Big names including Jack Wills, Three Mobile and Cath Kidston were among the businesses announcing the closure of their Nottingham stores in 2022. In terms of Nottingham's restaurants and pubs, the sudden closure of the Italian restaurant Ottimo and the loss of the much-loved Hand & Heart within the city's caves were among last year's changes.

But new stores and hospitality venues did open and some shops were saved from closure, including Nottingham's branch of Joules. In terms of challenges, consumer price inflation has also begun to fall, with the Office for National Statistics reporting a rate of 10.7% in November, down from 11.1% in October - a bigger fall than expected.

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But some issues do remain for businesses going into 2023, chief among them being continued high energy costs. The Chancellor Jeremy Hunt had initially been due to unveil a new package of support for businesses by the end of 2022, but this was controversially delayed to the new year after Mr Hunt said he wanted more time to finalise details.

Chris Hobson, the Director of Policy and External Affairs at the East Midlands Chamber, says the energy bills support is the major issue where uncertainty remains for businesses going into 2023. Speaking about the wider changes to the high streets, he said: "The high street has always been changing and evolving so there is nothing new in that, what the past couple of years have done is accelerate that and it has been forced along in a quicker way.

"We've seen lots of the middle-end retailers really struggle because it is hard for them to compete with prices online and in lower-end bargain places, and it is also hard for them to compete with the customer experience you get in a high-end retailer. For the small retailers, there has been a lot of churn and it has been really hard to set up a business.

"What would be great to see in Nottingham, Mansfield, Worksop or anywhere is local authorities thinking a bit more imaginatively about how that space is used. It would be great bringing more affordable housing into city centres.

"We went through a whole period a couple of decades ago where we moved everybody out of city centres to the suburbs and I think we need to create more multi-use spaces in city centres where you've got retail and hospitality, but you've also got housing and schools."

The change to Nottingham's high streets was highlighted by BBC analysis of Ordnance Survey data late last year, which showed that whilst Nottingham's banks and fish and chip shops had decreased since before the pandemic, the number of beauty salons and tattoo studios had shot up. William Rossiter, an Associate Professor at the Nottingham Business School, said at the time: "Traditional retail will still have some role to play, but the mix is really going to change.

"But this does raise some difficult questions for our politicians around how we are going to sustain our cities. I've now doubt that we will, but as what is the question."

Shoppers in Nottingham speaking just at the end of 2022 had mixed views on the current state of the city's shopping and hospitality scene. Paula Biggadike, in her 50s, who was visiting from Peterborough, said: "This is actually our first time visiting Nottingham and I think we're quite impressed.

"We've got the Winter Wonderland here at the moment which is really nice. There are quite a lot of closed shops but unfortunately that is something you see everywhere now."

Stephen Desmond, also in his 50s, moved to West Bridgford around two years ago from Leicester. He said: "I have always thought that Nottingham is a place with so much potential and there is so much that is good about it, but a lot more could be done with some of the space as well.

"If you look at the amount of money they have spent in Leicester, there has been a real improvement to the high streets there and I think we need something like that here. There are certain things that just need a bit of an upgrade and a tidy up, but then there is a lot of space that could be used better as well."

Brooklyn Selby, 21, a student who lives in Hucknall, said: "I think it's pretty good in Nottingham and I do think it has got better compared to years ago. I study in London at the moment and it's not all it is cracked up to be there, it costs you a grand a month just for a basic room.

"So there is a lot that is good about Nottingham, I think the one thing it needs is maybe a few more places just to have a sit down and hang out. It needs some sort of central hub to bring everything together."

Reflecting more generally on how 2022 had been for businesses in Nottinghamshire, Chris Hobson said: "At the start of the year, business confidence was pretty high because we were coming out of the pandemic, but we were seeing some expected prince inflation.

"Then Russia went into Ukraine and that had a knock-on impact on energy prices, followed by the political instability in the middle of the year and we went a couple of months over the summer when there were pretty much no decisions being taken and everything was about the Conservative Party.

"Then we had the fiasco of the mini-budget in early autumn and the cost of living crisis which is still there, so all of those things combined really knocked confidence.

"As we ended the year, we have a new Government in place and things are relatively stable compared to the past and while it's still tough, confidence was starting to pick back up again. I think high streets will keep changing, but change isn't necessarily a bad thing."


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