Survey suggests ‘apathy’ but there are opportunities to exploit says town centre manager

Research suggests people shop regularly in Barnstaple but they are not excited about the town. Picture: Andy KeebleResearch suggests people shop regularly in Barnstaple but they are not excited about the town. Picture: Andy Keeble

A ‘perception study’ commissioned by North Devon Council suggests there is currently a feeling of apathy towards Barnstaple as a shopping destination.

Speaking at today’s Opportunity Barnstaple event, Anthony Phillips, director of research experts Spirul, said: “Shoppers were neither more nor less satisfied with the town than they were two years ago.

“They come in regularly but they are not coming into Barnstaple because they are excited about the town and want to spend a lot of time here.

“They think it’s OK but only come in to town to do the things they need to do.”

According to the 189 face-to-face interviews carried out in Barnstaple and Bideford during the February half-term, the average visit to Barnstaple is two-three times a month, and the average spend per visit is £40.

Mr Phillips said that people wanted to see more branded clothes stores, with H&M among the brands often mentioned.

Town centre manager Hannah Harrington said she was disappointed by the survey but agreed that Barnstaple had ‘lost its buzz’.

“People are still using our town centre and the picture is pretty good,” she said.

“We have a good range of retail units and there is currently only a five per cent vacancy rate, compared with the national average of 11-12 per cent.

“I’ve seen a huge amount of change in the last six months; we have lost a few retailers but this is not necessarily a reflection on trading.

“But there does seem to be a lack of pride in our town at the moment and local retailers will tell you that the footfall is down.

“The buzz doesn’t seem to exist – we as locals don’t seem to have that at the moment.”

But Mrs Harrington said there were lots of opportunities and the town had to ‘move with the times’.

“The High Street has to evolve and adapt; we need to create the place where people want to spend their time – to get that buzz back,” she said.

“We need to encourage more national brands, more variety. But at the same time, we need to recognise the importance of our independent traders – to promote them and our uniqueness.

“There is an opportunity for us to go out and sell Barnstaple; to work with commercial agents and put together a prospectus outlining the town’s unique offer.

“A vibrant, busy town centre is important to us all and we need to work together to help develop something that delivers.”