Mark & Spencer in Aldershot Town Centre

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Marks & Spencer, AldershotThe announcement made by Marks & Spencer at the end of June that they intend to shut their Aldershot Outlet store must have come as a real blow to the town’s management team. Rushmoor Borough Council have been pumping money into regenerating the town’s pedestrianised shopping area, the area in which the M&S Outlet takes centre stage. The unit itself is one of the largest in the town centre and sits in a key location half way up the high street directly opposite the town’s main shopping centre, The Galleries. As one of only a handful of clothes shops in the town centre, the closure of the shop would leave a gap in the town centre in not just a physical sense — there would be a severe lack of quality clothing outlets too.The news comes not long after an announcement by the council that £43,530 has been allocated to improving the quality of the town’s shop fronts, a scheme which will, hopefully, increase the attractiveness of the town centre. The aim of the funding is to restore some of the town’s historic shop fronts and change the perception of the town’s decline. But with an increasing number of shops closing and few new outlets moving into the units vacated the reversal of Aldershot’s fortunes, both real and perceived, is going to be more than just cosmetic.

20150624_133548The town centre is stuck in somewhat of a vicious circle — as more shops close fewer shoppers come to the town centre, trade drops away from the remaining shops and they in turn close. While the closure of M&S wouldn’t be anything to do with the town and trading environment itself (it’s more to do with M&S’s restructuring of it’s outlet business) it would certainly amplify this cycle. The picture is similar around the country with smaller town centres losing out to larger towns and cities nearby as people choose to travel a little further in order to do all their shopping in one place.

For Aldershot there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon: the Wellesley development. The urban extension will add up to 3,850 new homes on the ex-army land between Aldershot and Farnborough increasing the population of the town substantially. The council has hopes that this will bring shoppers back to the town and, ultimately, regenerate the town centre, and they have already started work on improving the routes through from the development to the shopping centre of the town (phase 2 of “Our town coming together“). The council really do seem to be trying everything they can to help the town centre — from events in the summer to a more regular street market to the environmental improvements –but only time will tell if this will result in the regeneration the town really needs.

Posted on Thursday 2nd July, 2015 at 10:31 am in Obiter dicta.
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