‘We’re doing all we can in hard times’

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LINDA Hollands (letters, January 13) asserts that ‘Hastings is in a losing battle, with only itself to blame’ in relation to one two recent shop closures, namely JJB Sports (who sublet to Past Times just for the Christmas period) and Next. Early Learning Centre are also closing shortly which is disappointing.

She alludes to a number of issues that are also to blame above and beyond the recession, which I must respond to:

* ‘High rents are being squeezed out of traders’. This is a popular mantra of several retail moguls. The fact is that the market sets the rent at times of lease renewal and many new leases these days are based to a large degree on sales turnover, where the rent varies in proportion to the trading success of the retailer.

There have been numerous instances where deals have been done to keep shop units open where genuine difficulties have arisen. Rents are bound to be higher in prime retail premises. They cost an arm and a leg to build, unlike retail park ‘sheds’.

* ‘Our big name stores don’t carry the choice of products as in other towns’. There may be some truth in this in a few instances, particularly where our stores are smaller. Hastings has always been at the ‘end of the line’ for deliveries and transport infrastructure isn’t the best.

Conversely we have hosted one of the biggest New Look stores in the south east since 2006.

* ‘Other towns are doing all they can to bring people in’.

I would challenge anyone to find a town centre based shopping centre of equivalent size that does more than Priory Meadow on that score, in terms of the regular events and promotions we hold through the year.

The Christmas ice rink, to name one event of many, brought thousands of visitors into the town from beyond the usual TN30s post codes which represent our immediate shopping catchment, and indeed I am hopeful that we may not have seen the rink’s last appearance.

Hastings is by no means perfect, but many of us are active in seeking to improve the town, right from the basic appearance through to the redevelopment and regeneration of our seafront assets such as the pier.

As far as Priory Meadow is concerned we are committed to keeping a good range and choice of shops through these difficult times. I’m very pleased that Pizza Express will be opening its doors next month, and we will be seeking similar opportunities in the future to continue to improve our retail offer.

JOHN K HOUGH

Priory Meadow Centre manager