National figures show a national decline for the 10th straight year, but Shrewsbury Business Improvement District (BID) said the town was bucking that trend and footfall figures for 2018 were actually up on the previous year.
The total number of visits clocked by two town centre counters increased by 0.7 per cent. And December figures were even more positive with just over 1.2 million movements recorded, equating to an 8.8 per cent rise from 2017.
The number of visitors to Shrewsbury’s main shopping centres in December was also higher than in December 2017, with footfall in the Darwin, Pride Hill and Riverside centres rising by 5.35 per cent and 2.13 per cent respectively.
Seb Slater, Executive Director of Shrewsbury BID, said the figures reflected particularly well on Shrewsbury when compared to the West Midlands and nationally.
He said: “Footfall in town centres across the West Midlands fell by 1.9 per cent, and comparable market towns, as measured by Springboard, fell by 2.5 per cent, so for Shrewsbury to have an annual 0.7 per cent increase, and a rise of 8.8 per cent in December, is fantastic.
“It’s important to recognise the brilliant efforts of Shrewsbury businesses in attracting a substantial increase of visitors to the town centre over the Christmas period in what are undoubtedly challenging times for the High Street across the country.
“In the year ahead Shrewsbury BID is committed to continuing and developing our work with local businesses and partners to promote Shrewsbury as an attractive destination with a wealth of exciting heritage, businesses and experiences for the whole family to enjoy – kicking off with the Darwin Festival during February.”
One independent Shrewsbury retailer reported an overall increase of 7.5 per cent in turnover during November and December compared to the previous year, and an increase of 7 per cent for 2018 as a whole compared to 2017.
Tina Boyle, BID Director and owner of Acoustic Boutique, said: “We have had a lot of customers saying they like to buy local and do so whenever they can because they like the service they get, particularly from the range of independent businesses, and they want to support the high street.
“We have also seen a lot of customers from other towns visiting Shrewsbury because of the diverse offering of shops and restaurants.”
The footfall figures come after a Government commissioned report was released on the health of the nation’s town centres and giving recommendations on the way ahead – with Shrewsbury chosen as one of just six evidence gathering locations across the country.
Mr Slater said: “We welcome the High Street Report commissioned by the Government, in conjunction with the Institute of Place Management study, which takes an in-depth look at the issues facing our town centres.
“It was great to see Shrewsbury take a leading role in the study, being one of the very few places nationally to host an evidence session, and with both Councils as part of the Big Town Plan Partnership we’ll be looking closely at the recommendations and funding opportunities available for Shrewsbury.”
Sir John Timpson, chairman of the High Street Report panel, said town centres nationally have twice as many shops as are needed and local councils must get more funding to transform our High Street areas.
But he was keen to stress it’s not all about shopping and town centre emphasis was more to do with providing entertainment hubs, housing and health facilities.
Sir John has made several recommendations. He said the creation of a High Streets Task Force would help cross-sector networking and skills building, provide access to expert help and support, help streamline the planning process and support local “champions” in driving forward their plans.
He says a Future High Streets Fund should go to places that show a clear vision for their town centre, fund places with community involvement, demonstrate cross-sector leadership and show a commitment to collaboration and partnerships.
Other short-term recommendations centred on people not being driven away from town centres because of parking restrictions and charges, towns introducing a National High Street Perfect Day – one day each year where every street looks the best it can, keeping the area clear of litter and graffiti and encouraging landlords and tenants to think innovatively about how to use empty properties.