A BUSINESS leader believes Hucknall town centre is surviving the pain of the recession better than most — and that economic recovery could be just around the corner.
Martin Leach (pictured) is chairman of the Business Voice organisation, which was formed in the town to provide representation, unity and support for Hucknall’s shops.
Mr Leach, who has been in business for 30 years and runs the Arena Hair salon on Duke Street, admits that times have been tough.
But he thinks the air of doom and gloom is starting to lift — thanks to the hard work and determination of the town’s independent traders.
“I said in the Dispatch three years ago that Hucknall would survive the recession — and we have done pretty well,” he said. “We are a town with our own identity and that has been crucial.
“I think things did hit rock bottom but we are now talking ourselves out of the recession. Many businesses are seeing some recovery, albeit small. But confidence is coming back.”
Mr Leach says that up to eight per cent of town-centre shops have closed in Hucknall during the economic crisis. Yet other towns have seen up to 20% of shops shut.
He says the biggest impact has been from the closure of national chains, such as the Bon Marche and Jonathan James stores.
But independent shops provided the foundations — backed up by several banks, betting shops and food outlets that attracted all-important customers.
Initiatives Mr Leach would like to see to fire the recovery further are quicker re-use of empty shops — whether that is for temporary or permanent tenants — backed up by reduced rents.
He believes that town-centre manager Mark Armstrong, who is employed by Ashfield District Council, is doing a good job and that a new £1.3 million business centre he is involved with on Vine Terrace will bring trade on to High Street.
“This is my 30th year in business in Hucknall and I know how this town works,” said Mr Leach.
“Collectively, small businesses are the biggest employers in the country and more small businesses means more people in work.”
Mr Leach’s rallying-call follows a plea in last week’s Dispatch by Hucknall’s Conservative MP Mark Spencer for a clear vision to preserve High Street and shopping areas such as Annesley Road. He urged councils to get together with traders and shoppers.
Mr Leach agrees and is also a supporter of plans for an inner bypass and part-pedestrianisation of the town centre.
He said: “In five or ten years, when the bypass is in place and we get another boom, key stores will come back. They always use a recession to streamline their business.”
Business Voice was originally conceived in conjunction with Ashfield Council.
The aim was to create an organisation to represent the business community and to work on forming a town-centre masterplan that fed into consultations on the inner bypass.
But Business Voice is desperately in need of fresh impetus because workloads for its main members have increased. Regular meetings have not been held for more than a year.
It has money in the bank, plus IT support, but needs new members.
Coun John Wilmott (Lab), of Hucknall, who is deputy leader of Ashfield Council, says there are plans to create a High Street development group involving shops, community organisations and council officers.
He said: “I think people understand that shopping on High Street is an essential part of preserving the town centre.
“But we have to try and get some of the shops that are closed at the moment up and running. We have our regeneration team who are looking into different options.
“We are talking to all sorts of companies, chain stores and landlords to make sure we are on the same wavelength to fill these premises with good-quality stores.
“If we all pull together, things will move.”
Anyone interested in getting involved with Business Voice should log on at www.hucknallbusinessvoice.org.