More than 200 empty commercial premises across Welwyn Hatfield
It has been a troubled year for the high street, with numerous major retailers in the borough announcing falling profits.
In the last year alone, businesses with Welwyn Hatfield shops including Carpetright, Prezzo, Poundworld, New Look, Marks & Spencer, Homebase, Lloyds Pharmacy, Next and Carphone Warehouse have all announced nationwide closures or have entered into Company Voluntary Agreements (CVAs).
A CVA allows companies with debt problems, or which are insolvent, to reach an agreement with its creditors about how to pay them back.
Most of the planned closures have not yet hit the companies’ Welwyn Hatfield operations, but Hatfield is set to lose its Homebase next month and its Poundworld has been busy with a closing down sale.
John Lewis Partnership, which has a supermarket and a department store in WGC, reported that its profits for the year of 2017-2018 would be “close to zero” and that it would close five Waitroses nationwide.
The retailers most commonly cite online shopping as a major competitor impacting their operations – with ‘internet-resistant’ businesses such as vaping shops and beauty services flooding in to fill the gap.
Paul Haynes, manager of WGC’s Howard Centre, said: “It’s a challenge for a local authority to make the high street more active.”
According to council figures from April, there are 209 empty commercial properties in Welwyn Hatfield. Most of these are office premises, factories and warehouses, but they also includes 31 empty shop, cafe and restaurant spaces.
Two of the five empty units at the Galleria in Hatfield were vacant since 2012, with another three having been empty for at least two years.
The former Swinton Insurance on Howardsgate in WGC has been unocccupied for almost two years, while the old post office building has been out of use since 2016.
Chamber of Commerce chair Nick Brown also blames local decisions, citing the cost of parking in WGC town centre as an example. “The bottom line is, if you can’t park somewhere, you just go somewhere else.”
He also calls for more diversity. He asked why people get the train to a town: “It’s not for more mobile phone and coffee shops.”