A town lagging ‘severely behind’ in provision for food and drink outlets must change to keep up with the high street, a report has claimed.
A high street health check by the Local Data Company revealed Worthing had seen its leisure provision increase by just seven per cent in recent years, compared with the national average of 16 per cent.
The report – submitted as part of proposals to introduce a series of restaurants to the Montague Centre – calls for the town to accept more food and drink businesses in order to improve its overall offer.
It read: “Traditional shopping is no longer the reason that people visit towns and therefore towns have to offer a destination of experiences, diversity, entertainment and as the past five years have shown, places to eat and drink.”
According to the report, Worthing saw the fastest growth in convenience retail between 2010 and 2015, at 33 per cent.
But the town saw the food and drink sector increase by just seven per cent between 2010 and 2013, compared with the national average of 16 per cent.
Norwich was recorded as having a 91 per cent rise in food and drink outlets in the same period – the highest in the country.
In contrast, however, the report pointed to the struggles of Brantano and BHS, among others, in highlighting the struggles of traditional retail.
Consultants believe the alternative to converting the centre to largely restaurant use would be the fastest-growing retail uses – charity shops, hair salons and discount stores.
It added: “We advise Worthing that it needs to change and must change if it is to maintain its relevance in the modern world of destination management and more importantly if it wants to grow and enable the existing retailers and leisure operators to run successful and profitable businesses which will in turn benefit the Worthing community, economically and socially, in the wider sense.”
Objections to the proposals have mainly focused on the loss of trees as a result of the building of a new glass kiosk.
But among 56 residents’ objections were claims Worthing already had ‘too many’ restaurants.
Chains such as Starbucks, understood to have previously been considered as potential tenants for the Montague Centre, recently opened elsewhere in the town centre.
It is hoped increased food and drink businesses in the centre would ‘act as a catalyst’ for increasing customer spend and dwell times, while driving footfall and reducing overall vacancy rates.
Council officers had previously recommended rejecting the scheme, in a bid to protect prime retail units in the town centre.
But they had a change of heart after the Local Data Company evidence was submitted, with officers recommending the scheme for approval.
Town centre manager Sharon Clarke said the town’s planning policy, which seeks to protect traditional retail uses in the town centre, had limited the increase in food and drink venues.
In her ten years in post, the number of hospitality businesses had increased from 80 to 139.
“It’s what people want,” she said.
“If town centres don’t have that leisure provision there is no need to come into the town centre because it’s so easy to do your shopping online now. Shopping has become a secondary reason for coming in, where it used to be the primary reason.”
The application was approved unanimously by councillors on Wednesday (June 29).