Masterplan bid to tackle Doncaster's empty shops

Plans have been drawn up to reduce the number of empty shops in Doncaster town centre
Plans have been drawn up to reduce the number of empty shops in Doncaster town centre

More office developments, a smaller main shopping area and tighter planning controls could help revitalise Doncaster town centre, believe bosses.

They are part of a range of measures which are being rolled out to try to end concerns about the number of empty shops in the town centre, and a senior official involved in the scheme believes the town could see improvements in the next 12 months.

Chris Dungworth, Doncaster Council's investment and tourism team manager responsible for Business Doncaster, says as part of the authority's town centre masterplan, the main shopping street could be smaller, but other businesses could move into a town centre made up zones.

This would include:

*A retail core would run along Frenchgate and Baxtergate to the market, made up of big name retailers.

*Areas between the Market, Scot Lane, Priory Walk and Nigel Gresley Square would be made up of 'quality independent shops'.

*Office developments brought in to sites near the station, the Civic and Cultural Quarter and the college.

There us also a town centre parking review being carried out.

Mr Dungworth said: "We are doing a lot to get retail in and over the next 12 months people will start to see changes happening in terms of fewer empty shops and the face of retail.

"We would expect to see the start of improvements over that time."

The plans come on the back of the announcement last month that consultation was starting over plans for a Public Spaces Protection Order to be brought in covering the town centre, which aimed to take anti-social behaviour off the streets, and find help for those people with complex social problems who were causing concern among the public.

It would stop begging on the street and rough sleeping, and end street drinking, while official agencies work closely with those who are in need of help..

Mr Dungworth said most areas around the country had seen empty shops becoming an issue in their town centres, with some having greater problems than Doncaster.

He said: "We need a clean and vibrant town centre for us to bring investors into Doncaster. Retail is shrinking as more and more people shop online.

"The masterplan will zone certain areas in the town centre."

He said there was still work to do but the council was getting a positive response from businesses.

RETAIL.

The council's plans will see a retail core along along the road between the Frenchgate and the Market which would contain 'brand name' retailers.

Around that, it would look to site quality independent shops.

Many of the buildings are not owned by the council, so the authority has now introduced regular meetings with commercial letting agents to work with them to fill shops with businesses which fit the planned zones. Mr Dungworth said agents have been supportive and understand a thriving town centre will help them maximise rental income.

He added the council was also trying to use town planning rules to make sure shops clustered in suitable areas.

"We are all for bringing business into Doncaster, but it has to be the right sort of business," he said. "We are working with the private sector to get the right people in."

He said the council may also look at 'strategic buying' of retail space if it becomes available.

"To develop Doncaster we need to take back control, but we would only do that if there is a commercial return. We are talking to a number of high profile investors on that basis. We are talking about high profile retail leisure operators."

Major plans to revamp Doncaster Market, turning into an evening destination as well as a daytime retailer, have already been outlined, with funding from the Sheffield City Region Investment Fund already in place.

Designs for the markets scheme could be passed by Doncaster Council at its meeting next week.

OFFICES

Plans have been drawn up to bring in major office developments into the town centre - potentially driving a boost in foot outlets and restaurants.

Land near Sir Nigel Gresley Square, the station, and Doncaster College is being looked at as possible office land - and some of this is council owned. Again it will only be used as such if there is a commercial return for the authority.

Mr Dungworth said: "Next year, Doncaster will be 75 minutes away from London by train, and we think that will make it an attractive prospect to London based companies.

"If we bring in offices near the town centre, we bring in professional people to work in the town cenrte, and potentially live in the town centre, and they will spend money in the town centre on food and and things. It will also generate an evening economy around highbars and restaurants.

"Most of Doncaster's big offices at present are out towards Lakeside. We want to bring some into the town centre.

"An example if Network Rail's plans for a superdepot at Marshgate, which could create 200 jobs."

The former Doncaster Council offices at the Colonnades are also lined up for officers. They have been refurbished as part of the masterplan, and the authority is hoping to find a major firm to move in.

PARKING

Potential changes could be made to the town center's parking arrangements - if that is what businesses want.

Mr Dungworth said businesses were being consulted over a possible new parking strategy for the borough.

He said: "This is a different way of working, as previously we did not consult with them. We are putting them at the forefront and taking their views into account."