Monmouth and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce

Chamber tackles empty shop issue head on

8th January 2018

Beacon readers will have noticed that over the last 12 months our empty shop rate has increased. This is a matter of considerable concern to the Chamber and we have taken steps to identify the issues involved with each empty shop and, where possible, make it more lettable.

It would be easy to blame shop closures on poor trading conditions, business rates, internet competition and the uncertainty of Brexit. Although these factors are relevant, a number of other reasons are apparent as to why businesses have closed. There have been shops that closed due to the illness or retirement of the owner, moves to larger premises, large hikes in the service charge by landlords, landlords not carrying out necessary structural repairs and even one instance where the business closed because the owner was offered a dream job!

One of the most worrying trends is that most high street banks and building societies have indicated their desire in the short medium of long term to close branches in market towns. This has affected Nat West and the Yorkshire Building Society so far and is likely to affect other bank and building society branches. We cannot stop this trend, but we must anticipate it and look for a flexible approach from the planning authorities on change of use.

Once shops have closed, readers might ask, why does it take so long to re-let premises? Well, the majority of our empty shops at present are listed buildings. They may have features, which do not suit modern retail. There is some evidence also to suggest that as landlords do not pay business rates on empty listed properties that this creates a disincentive for them to actively market their property. The rent per square foot in Monmouth on shops varies hugely and some landlords seem to be holding out for what are now unrealistic amounts. There is also the instance where a change of use is sought by the prospective tenant the process takes a considerable time and then this is followed by a period of building work and shop fitting.

Is there any good news out there? This last week I have received information that suggests four of our empty shops are now re-let.

What more can the Chamber do? It is important that prospective tenants can easily find out information on empty shops. So, working with commercial estate agents we will be incorporating a feature on our new Chamber website to show details on all commercial properties available to rent in town. The Chamber is also taking steps to improve the appearance of shops with window displays and we hope to install some in the empty Clarks shop whilst building work for Specsavers is being conducted. This week we have also written to the landlord of the Bella Couture shop expressing our concerns about the state of the wooden canopy above the shop and copied this to MCC planning office. We are also working closely with MCC to try and secure some support for hard pressed retailers, particularly those not in our main shopping areas.

What can be done to bring more money in the town from shoppers and visitors? The Premier Inn has, as expected, brought a great deal of new business into town from the guests staying in their 60 bedrooms. Some businesses attribute 20% increases in turnover over the last year to its existence. Unfortunately, we have lost the spending of the guests who might have stayed in 24 rooms of the Wetherlodge. Mistakes were made in the renovation work and we believe that all the necessary permissions will be in place in the next two months. We will be writing to Wetherspoons to gain some commitment from them that work will be finished as quickly as possible and that the hotel can be open for Easter 2018.

What can you do to help your local shops? Whatever you want to buy try local first. January and February are quiet months in the retail trade and every £ spent not only helps towards the rent and rates, but also to pay staff wages and so support residents and their families.

David Cummings, Chairman Monmouth and District Chamebr of Trade and Commerce

New proposals for a retail development off Dixton roundabout

Artists impressions of the proposed new development have now been installed in the old Clarks shop at 25 Monnow Street and the “plans” can be seen on website www.nelsonplace.co.uk, where you are invited to make comment . There was also an article in the Monmouthshire Beacon of 9th August 2017.

David Cummings, Chairman of Monmouth and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce  advised Chamebr members that it would be inappropriate to make any official comment from the Chamber until he had their feedback.

He also informed members of the following:

  • Official plans will not be submitted to MCC planning office until the end of August .

  • The revised plans may have some slight alterations from the posters and nelson place website images

  • We do not yet know what Natural Resources Wales attitude will be to the revised drawings. They were very much against the original proposals on flooding grounds  .

  • The Chamber committee is meeting during the last week in August to discuss this and other matters.

  • It is probably not appropriate to make comments on these new plans on the original application number until the revised plans are uploaded by MCC.

  • There will be discussion on the new plans at the next Chamebr meeting on 18th September.

News of new jobs plus new opportunities

10th February 2017

The most exciting news over the last few weeks for Monmouth, has been the announcement of 65 skilled new jobs at Siltbuster in their new facility on the Wonastow Road mixed use site. The exciting new contemporary styled building (see below) sets a bench mark, which other businesses moving in to the site must reach. Siltbuster and MCC planning officers spent a great deal of time finding a suitable style for the building.  This new facility is significant enough on a national basis for Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Ken Skates, to mention in the Assembly.  Siltbuster’s expansion,  is not only a statement that they are one of the market leaders in their field of technology and a major exporter, but also a statement of confidence in Monmouth as a place for businesses to thrive.

Nearby, Singleton Court’s new owners are undertaking a programme of refurbishment and will bring the building shortly up to contemporary standards by ensuring a low carbon foot print by installing solar panels, new insulation and LED lighting.

There is good news on the jobs front too in town in 2017 ,  with hairdressers, wood burner suppliers and hotels taking on new staff. Monmouth is a place that continues to attract new businesses with not just one, but two new bridal wear shops, a new retailer, a new phone shop and some retailers moving to larger premises.

In the background, the Chamber works with others to improve visitors’ and shoppers’ experience of the town.  Currently we are involved in creating new locations for coach parking, new road signage, new town map stands, new cycle parking and upgrading cycle ways and footpaths. We also work with other towns to create destination marketing for Monmouth and encourage more usage of the FREE Rockfield Road car park.

We continue to work with landlords and commercial estate agents to ensure our level of empty shops remains at or around 2%-3% compared to the Welsh average of 12.6%. As readers will remember the Chamber has been a key player in supporting small businesses and was pivotal in securing another £10 million from the Welsh Government in December to support Welsh businesses badly affected by the business rate revaluation. 2017 remains a year of not only challenges but also of opportunities for Monmouth and its businesses.

Siltbusters

David Cummings

Chairman, Monmouth and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce 

2017 - A year of new opportunities for Monmouth

On behalf of all retailers in our bustling market town we thank you for your custom in 2016 and wish you a very happy and prosperous 2017.

Late in January the new Premier Inn opens with 60 sparkling new bedrooms. Now with 150 serviced accommodation bedrooms in total in Monmouth, it is time to book that wedding in 2017 at the Shire Hall or Bridges. If you are planning a wedding this year, then Swan Court will be the place to visit, with a new bridal wear shop next to an award winning jeweller and a new florist. . Beaufort Arms Court is another place to call in 2017 with a recent change of ownership of the café, a healthy eating sandwich bar and soon a new bakery.

The Chamber actively engaged with landlords and estate agents in 2016 handling empty properties and now we are pleased to announce that our shopping experience is shortly due to expand, with new retailers moving in to the old Clarks shop, Fancy Freds and Viyella in Monnow Street.

If you have not heard about it, the new 90 space Rockfield road floodlit FREE car park is now OPEN. If you are fed up driving around in circles trying to find a space in the Cattle Market car park and can manage the short walk into town, please use it. Looking ahead to later in the year , the thirty seven space Wyebridge Street car park should be open (subject to planning) for business day and night . No more searching for that non existent space in the Glendower Street car park.

Retail businesses will be acutely aware of the proposed increases in business rates in the county, especially targeting the hospitality sector and small retailers with increases of 50% quite common and a few increases in rateable value of over 500%! .The Chamber and MCC have lobbied the Valuation Office and helped secure adjustments to the rateable values for some retailers . We were very pleased to hear on 17th December that the Welsh Government would provide an extra £10 million support for those businesses worst affected.

A dark cloud that some thought had been blown away are new proposals, due shortly, for the Dixton Roundabout retail development. We await with interest to see if what is offered is more palatable, less a threat to existing town businesses and less likely to cause traffic chaos and flooding issues.

2016 saw a post Brexit boost in tourism with south east Wales hospitality businesses reporting a 39% increase in trade. The Chamber and the county council will do all we can in 2017 to attract European and American visitors to help our businesses succeed and grow.

David Cummings

Chairman of Monmouth and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce.

chairman@mdctc.co.uk

Newsletter November 2016

At the November meeting of the Chamber kindly hosted by Waitrose , there was a warm welcome to new Chamber members Green and Jenks, Wye Media, Monmouth Rotary Club and Development Integration.

There was a huge turnout of 63 with presentations from Mewscraft on shop layout and Cooke and Arkwright on the business rate revaluation (see seperate page). About half of the meeting was dominated by the business rate issue.

The Chairman, David Cummings, thanked Gabbys, Fingal Rock, Mon Teas and RT Jewellery for their responses to his request for feedback on the effects of the Brexit decision in June on their business. 4 retailers however are not a representative sample of 210 retail businesses in town. He must have feedback from at least 30 businesses for his meeting with MCC on 6th December. If you are a Chamber member or Monmouth business please respond now to chairman@mdctc.co.uk!

David gave a short business round up at the meeting and on subsequent developments as follows:

  • The next Chamber meeting will be kindly hosted by Bridges on Tuesday 24th January. It is proposed that after the meeting there is a tour of the new Premier Inn with drinks and nibbles to follow.

  • Over a dozen potential new members attended the Chamber meeting and Mandy Mardell, Suzy Mills and Gill Franklin are kindly following up to get them to sign up for Chamber membership.

  • Despite a huge amount of effort on David’s part he has still not been able to arrange a meeting with the Markets Manager at MCC.

  • Again despite a huge amount of effort on David’s part he says he is still no wiser in knowing if the non hotel part of Portal Road site has been sold.

  • David said he had been chasing up progress on the letting of empty shops . At the very least the Chamber will endeavour to get some sort of display up in each for Christmas.

  • Some for you will have had your lives and businesses disrupted by the six week pavement work at the bottom of Hereford Road. It is David’s understanding that because this is a Conservation Area that when  the kerbs are replaced then the pavement has to be changed to Tegula blocks . This seems like a waste of money to me when the pavement could have been done in tarmac in less than one week. David said he will be raising this whole issue of disruption caused to businesses by roadworks at the quarterly meeting of the Chambers of the county with MCC on 6th December.

  • There is still no news on the new plans for the Dixton roundabout Retail development.

Newsletter April 2016

The retail sector has begun 2016 in very positive territory. The builders have done a great job on the Commerce House building and it is now to be let to a national restaurant chain. The retail sector is likely to benefit substantially from the vastly expanded for 2016, Wye River Festival in May and the Eisteddfod in Abergavenny in July/August. Currently the Chamber is looking in to ways to promote Monmouth via the Eisteddfod website and providing leaflets on our town to hotels in a 50 mile radius of Abergavenny, which will host visitors to the show.

Work has begun on the Premier Inn on the Portal Road with work due to finish in December 2016. The icing on the cake of visitor experience will be the construction of the new Hotel and Spa on the Wye on Hadnock Road, which goes to planning in May.

The Chamber is actively working with Smartwater (see www.smartwater.com) and CADROW to improve security on the Wonastow existing estates.

What more can be done to improve the shopper and visitor’s experience of Monmouth? Well plans are afoot to improve the appearance of the public toilets by old Monnow Bridge. We have also been lobbying the town council about repainting the A40 pedestrian underpass, which was last undertaken in 2011 in an initiative by the Chamber, Haberdashers Monmouth School for Boys and MCC.

We are actively seeking some new coach parking spaces on a temporary basis until the non hotel part of the Portal Road site is sold; the plans for which include 5 coach parking spaces.

Overall, the Chamber remains confident that 2016 will be one of the best years ever for businesses in Monmouth.

David Cummings, Chairman, Monmouth and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce. chairman@mdctc.co.uk