PROPERTY occupancy levels in Dewsbury town centre have levelled out since the last Press survey 18 months ago, with problem hotspots remaining unaddressed – but it is the town’s landmark market that appears to be in major decline.
Daisy Hill, once a des-res retail jewel of the town – but which Kirklees controversially declared was “outside” the town centre, has become virtually a property wasteland.
While some shops have been converted to flats, there are only eight businesses – and 18 empty shop fronts.
Of a total of 271 town centre properties counted (282 last year), 83 (89 last year) were vacant or closed for business – almost exactly 30 per cent.
The market, meanwhile, is in steep decline only nine years after it was named the country’s Market of the Year.
Tour operators famously ran bus trips from across the north of England but most of those have dried up as both the market and the town suffer from a poor image problem.
One trader said he had two women from Nottingham in his shop who said they were “disgusted” at the state of the town and wondered why on earth it had been chosen for an excursion.
In the recent past, stalls were at a premium, with traders queueing from early morning trying to get one on the popular Wednesday and Saturday markets.
But entire rows of stalls on the open market now stand empty, with others only appearing used because of stallholders spreading their wares onto neighbouring stands.
If not counting as rented stalls, that would distort our tally of 20 stalls on the top outdoor market standing empty, plus entire rows on the bottom outdoor area, and nine empty units in the main covered market area.
The permanent butcher’s shops at the Machell’s Mill end of the market have all now closed and of the seven units in what was the popular fish stall area, only three were trading last Wednesday.
We surveyed the rest of the town from South Street (by the bus station), to Crackenedge Lane (to its junction with Battye Street). Lower Bond Street was included to its junction with Union Street, which still has several retail/service businesses on it.
Longcauseway, the precinct, Westgate, Northgate, adjacent streets and Empire House were all included.
Kirklees is currently using a centrally funded £3.7m Dewsbury Townscape Heritage Initiative to improve buildings in the “conservation area” centred on Northgate, with the first improvements due to be unveiled next month. But while Regeneration Board chairman Coun Eric Firth has pleaded with traders to “hang on” until Kirklees College moves into Pioneer House – hopefully from next year – Northgate has also experienced more closures.
In 2014, there were only three empty shops there, a figure which has increased to 11, although new businesses have also bolstered that part of town, with smaller independent units opening up in the former Bickers building and within what was formerly the Railway Inn/Cedric Tapps pub.
A streetscape artwork used to cover the facade of the former Principal pub on Northgate was vandalised recently, with someone ripping parts of the hoarding away and knocking holes in others.
There is good news via full occupancy of the Princess of Wales Shopping Centre, with high street names including Boots, Argos, WH Smith, Thomas Cook, New Look, Holland & Barrett and the big name mobile phone companies staying loyal.
Westgate too remains largely stable, although the blighted, scaffolded area at the junction with Daisy Hill remains an eyesore.
When The Press last carried out a retail survey 17 months ago, then regeneration chair Coun Paul Kane threatened enforcement action by officials against the owners, Stayton Group. So far no progress appears to have been made. The building adjacent to the Time Piece pub, formerly the Co-operative Funeral Directors, has been standing empty for probably a decade or more, without its owners being called to account.
The seated area in the centre of Market Place, which was previously declared a booze-free zone by Kirklees Council, is now a regular haunt for gangs of drunk or drugged individuals.
Commercial activities which have seen significant change according to our statistics include a reduction in both charity shops and gold-buying/cheque-cashing operations.
Hair and beauty customers are still well catered for with 18 shops and we counted 27 fast food or takeaway businesses – an increase of six on the last count in March 2015.
Asian fashion and jewellery retailing is still strong, while the number of Eastern European or Middle Eastern mini-markets showed the biggest growth, with seven.
Gamblers wishing to bet on Dewsbury being the next Oxford Street of the north are still spoiled for choice with six bookmakers.