Chichester shoppers have been urged to ‘help keep our high street alive’ following the closure of another business.
Real Burger Kitchen (RBK) closed its South Street restaurant on Sunday (June 9) due to the 'continual decline on the foot flow on the high street'. Read more here.
Sussex Restaurant Company director Nick Sutherland, said: “There are currently scores of retails units in Chichester high street that are either empty or to let, which is having a major impact on the visitors to the high street.”
In response, Chichester BID has pledged to continue helping businesses through ‘challenging times’ for the high street.
BID chairman Colin Hicks said: “Whether it is a restaurant or a retail outlet, every business that falls victim to this tough climate is a huge loss to Chichester. There are a number of reasons why a business makes that final, difficult decision to close its doors – rent, rates and relevance are just some of them. However we are continuing to work with businesses to support them through these challenging times and ensure their voices are heard.
“But each of us needs to ask ourselves, what do we want the future of the high street to look like? If it’s a place where we can continue to browse, socialise and refuel – then we need to take action. We need to support our businesses and help keep our high street alive.”
The changing nature of the high street is a 'complicated issue'
Chichester District Council said it is ‘very aware’ of public concerns.
A spokesman said: “The changing nature of the high street is a complicated issue, taking place on a national scale. There are many factors at play, including the rise of internet shopping, changing consumer needs and requirements, as well as changing business models across the retail sector.
"Landlords alone have control of who takes up empty units, and business rates are set by the government, with councils in charge of collecting them on the government’s behalf.
“While we understand people’s concerns, the high street in Chichester is doing comparatively better than some towns and cities.
“Empty units do fill relatively quickly and the city is still regarded as an attractive city for businesses to set up. The average shop vacancy rate in the South East is running at ten per cent while in Chichester, it is 8.2 per cent – one of the lowest in the country – so there are many positive signs. We would also urge people to support their local businesses as much as possible.”
The council revealed that Chichester will benefit from the government’s retail business rate relief, which came into effect on April 1.
The spokesman added: “Having taken account of the difficult trading conditions on the high street, the government has introduced a business rates retail discount scheme for occupied retail properties with a rateable value of less than £51,000.
“This scheme will run for two years and qualifying retail business will get a discount of one third off their payable bill. Qualifying retail properties in the district were identified and revised bills reducing rates liabilities were issued mid April. The rate relief has been awarded to 446 businesses within the Chichester district, 175 of which are based in the city centre.”
The district council said it is working ‘extremely closely’ with its local partners in order to ensure the city remains ‘economically buoyant’.
It added: “To ensure that Chichester remains as resilient as possible, we have been leading the Chichester Vision which was developed last year and is now in its delivery phase.
"Work is underway to improve the look and feel of the city so that it continues to be attractive to both visitors and businesses.
"We have launched a retail training programme for independent retailers, with associated shop front improvement grants, and this has been very well received.
"We have also offered special enabling grants for small business for capital projects and we have been able to support a number of city centre independent businesses with these, including newly opened businesses. Chichester BID has noted that there were 40 openings in the BID area last year and of these, 34 were independent businesses."
To help 'fulfil some of the aims of the Chichester Vision', the district council revealed it has employed an events officer.
The spokesman continued: "[Their] role is to work with partners across the district. They will be coordinating a diverse and exciting events programme aimed at bringing more people to the whole of the district, in order to boost activity and footfall across the area."
Readers react to latest closure
News of the closure of RBK sparked a great deal of upset and anger on social media.
Commenting on the Observer Facebook page, Norma Page said: “This is very sad. Chichester is looking rather desolate.”
Tanya Millicent Humphrey wrote: “I’m grieving for my city it’s becoming a ghost town. It used to be amazing. We are all being pushed away from the town as there is nothing there any more.”
Diana O’Brien said: “I loved this little restaurant, never had a bad meal. I am sad it has closed.”
Lesley Green said RBK sold ‘the best burgers in town’, whilst Rachel Cook said it was a ‘great restaurant’.
Jake Saint felt the closure was ‘nothing unusual’. He said: “It’s been happening for decades. It’s not Chichester turning into a ghost town. This restaurant will be replaced by something else like it.”