Following the announcement of the closure of the Huddersfield Marks and Spencer store, Charles Brook gives his opinion:
It is difficult to imagine any self-respecting town not having an M&S on its High Street. Whilst M&S are taking steps to improve their trading performance on a national basis, there is something of an indictment of any reasonably sized conurbation if it can’t sustain their model. It is particularly concerning when you consider the lack of competition they have in Huddersfield.
The demographic of their business really hasn’t shifted much over the years but there was a local policy decision taken to move the emphasis away from the “younger” end of fashion and school wear (including the vast majority of any useful choice of Menswear) a number of years ago. The closure of M&S will probably be missed most by the elderly retired who find it convenient for good quality, portioned food.
What does it say about Huddersfield? Perhaps the most tangible evidence of a broken retail offering and not wholly due to the changed shopping habits that we hear so much about on the national news.
Huddersfield’s population used to include the dormitory towns and villages of the Holme and Colne Valleys and stretched out towards Dewsbury and Penistone. They are now the dormitories of Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield, leaving Huddersfield with a significantly itinerant and migrant population supplemented during terms with Students – no longer the typical M&S customer demographic.
But, the situation is even more complex than that. A tragically reckless approach to management of the town centre’s real estate, whether in terms of rates, rent or redevelopment combined with a dysfunctional transport infrastructure incorporating measures that couldn’t have been better calculated to destroy trade, have laid waste to the centre’s retail economy.
Inadequate office facilities and a depressed, ill-maintained or policed environment, have made the town unattractive to investment or commercial regrowth.
We have an inward-looking Council that lacks courage, vision and intellect. Unable to arrive at political accommodations for the greater good of the community they purport to serve, it is difficult to imagine a more parochially arrogant collective.
I really don’t know how we achieve it but, the politicians on Kirklees’ Council should stick to dealing with the Council’s core responsibilities around safety, security, sanitation, social housing, infrastructure maintenance and repair, social cohesion, health and education. Commercial matters and the management of the town’s core should be handled by experienced business people with skins thick enough to brush off the barbs that the politicians seem all too scared of attracting.