‘It will be a tale of two cities if another major retailer closes’

Kirkgate, Wakefield Cathedral precinct.
Kirkgate, Wakefield Cathedral precinct.

The collapse of another high street shop near Wakefield Cathedral could see the city centre ‘split into two lumps with nothing in the middle’, an experienced councillor has warned.

Labour’s Kevin Swift said the loss of another major retailer in the area would physically divide the heart of Wakefield and worsen existing problems on the city’s high street.

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It comes as a taskforce set up to address the big questions facing the future of high streets in the Wakefield district met for the first time on Monday.

Members from 11 local organisations representing the public, private and voluntary sectors were present.

Speaking at a scrutiny committee meeting at County Hall on Monday morning, Coun Swift said the authority should focus on empty units on high streets ahead of those at retail parks.

He said: “We’ve got big problems in the town centres, and on the one hand there will be a call for public intervention, and on the other hand not enough money to do it.

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“I’m not saying empty units is not an issue in retail parks. I know it’s a problem for those landlords. But I just don’t think it’s as much of a problem as in the town and city centres.

“We’ve got BHS standing empty at the moment.

“It will only take something like Boots to go – which looking at the number of customers they seem to have at the moment wouldn’t be the strangest thing to happen – and we’d have the town centre split into two lumps with nothing in the middle.”

The council is in the process of putting together a city centre masterplan which it says will guide all future developments in the area.

A bid has also been submitted for a slice of a £675m government fund for high street regeneration up and down the country.

Last month Boots confirmed it was reviewing the future of more than 200 stores. The chain’s American owner, Walgreens Boots Alliance, said it would undertake a review of the stores over the next 12 to 18 months.

Boots employs more than 56,000 people.

The announcement came a week after Marks and Spencer announced plans to close a further 110 stores. Is it not clear what this would mean for the future of stores in the Wakefield district, though it is understood that the review would focus primarily on areas where there is more than one branch.