Harrogate Council rejects 'pessimism' on town centre closures

Shoppers in Harrogate.
Shoppers in Harrogate.

Harrogate is launching a new ‘indies’ campaign to promote its independent sector to counter challenging times for the retail sector and town centre shops.

Visit Harrogate is working with local independent businesses on a new printed leaflet with ‘indie’ trails marked out for visitors and residents, as well as a shared social media campaign. Its chief executive Richard Spencer said: “The indie offer is a key Harrogate brand value and will always help differentiate us from many of our competitors.”


The new initiative is good news for ‘indie’ shops, bars, cafes and restaurants experiencing tougher times in Harrogate town centre in a climate of national chain closures.
Less than two weeks ago, Imagined Things made the national headlines after its owner’s tweet for help went viral.


The bookshop’s neighbouring businesses told the Harrogate Advertiser this week that more needed to be done to highlight the town’s indies.


Harrogate Borough Council, which is the single biggest financial contributor to Visit Harrogate, is keen to support the new campaign.


But Graham Swift, the council’s cabinet member for resources, enterprise and economic development, also said Harrogate town centre was fundamentally in a healthy condition.
He said: “Like many places, Harrogate today is challenged by national trends in retail such as internet shopping, business rates re-evaluation and the increase in minium wage.
"But the facts show Harrogate is in a good state. In fact, we're in a better place than most of the rest of the country."


Official figures show that Harrogate’s vacancy rate for retail units in the town centre was 8.5 per cent in March of this year, compared to more than 11 per cent nationwide.
Harrogate’s rate actually fell in the last quarter to 7.5 per cent.


Council initiatives to back the Harrogate economy include:


Introducing a discretionary rate relief policy for Harrogate businesses in April.
Providong the 'seed money' for Harrogate's current efforts to become a BID town (Business Improvement District).
Hosting major cultural and sporting events to increase visitor numbers.
Investing in Harrogate Convention Centre,


Graham Swift said: “Areas like Westminster Arcade are important to the town and the council does do a lot to support the local economy.”


Richard Spencer said Visit Harrogate was in the process of working with Harrogate independents and possessed the marketing capabilities to help indies capitalise on their popularity.
Part of the push would involved identifying specific areas of Harrogate where there indie shops were a significant presence in the way that, for example, the Montpellier Quarter behaves.


He said: “We need to work together in clusters of enterprising indie partnerships to design and deliver powerful marketing campaigns using Visit Harrogate’s powerful channels and platforms. For example, our number one Google ranked website heading toward a million unique sessions a year.”


The Visit Harrogate chief executive had previously told the Harrogate Advertiser that he was hopeful where the town was heading - despite the shock to businesses of the internet, as well as the impact of business rates re-evaluation and increases in the national living wage.
He said Harrogate was a unique town and was being hit less hard than other destination towns.

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