Newport’s Prezzo restaurant will close its doors permanently, it was announced yesterday. The branch was named as one of 22 of the company’s 178 restaurants which will not reopen after lockdown in an effort to save the struggling national chain.
Comments on the Isle of Wight Community Information Facebook page described the move as “another nail in the coffin” of Newport’s High Street with one grim forecast reading, “It’s going to be a ghost town soon.”
Prezzo opened up in the town’s former Post Office in 2016, after it moved to the Co-operative on Pyle Street/South Street. The Co-op has also closed this month, leaving the centre of Newport without a Post Office. Yesterday’s announcement means the building is likely to add to the total of more than 45 empty properties in the town centre, with Prezzo joining the likes of Top Shop, Pizza Express, Laura Ashley and Monsoon in abandoning the Island since the start of the pandemic.
A spokesman for the Isle of Wight Council (IWC) said: “Our current estimates show that retail vacancies in Newport are lower than the national average. In partnership with Newport and Carisbrooke Community Council (NCCC) and Newport Business Association we have set up the Shaping Newport Project to help regenerate the town.
“There are around 390 retail units in the town centre. We estimate that 30 shops and businesses have opened or reopened in the area since 2019, the majority of which are locally managed. By contrast, a number of prominent national retailers have closed their doors, but these are often influenced by national factors not just by local conditions.”
He pointed to the successful bid for a High Street Heritage Action Zone, which will see £1.3 million invested in the town centre over the next four years, and added: “The Isle of Wight’s local plan supports proposals which contribute to the diversity, choice, vitality and viability of town centres. Proposals for new retail development are expected to be located within identified town centre boundaries before edge-of-centre and out-of-centre sites are considered.”
The chairwoman of NCCC, Councillor Julie Jones-Evans, the owner of Dragonfly in Nodehill, was also upbeat about independent shops. She said: “Thankfully we have a strong independent sector. You can see this in the High Street, Holyrood Street, Pyle Street and in Nodehill. The question is what is happening in places where independents are situated that the rest of the town can learn from. Businesses rates, rents, parking, and the mix of businesses is probably worth noting. Only parking can be directly addressed by IWC.
“It’s really difficult to take this snapshot in time and come up with definitive conclusions or solutions. National chains are going bust and online shopping has gained pace during the pandemic. It’s difficult to say whether consumer behaviour has shifted that way permanently.
“Newport High Street has the highest business rates on the Island and landlords set the rents. Both are situations that are outside of the control of IWC and NCCC.”
A question to the IWC about whether the removal of parking charges had been considered to help existing retailers and encourage new tenants was not answered. The closure of the Co-op has meant the end of free one-hour parking in the multi-story car park above it.
Julie, who grew up above her family’s shop in Newport, added that a recent government consultation on the future of town centre shops is potentially devastating to all towns, as the ground floor of large stores could be turned into housing. IWC are opposed to the idea.
Criticising “short term thinking” that drives some changes she said: “Would the football club have left Church Litten in hindsight? What damage has Asda done to the economy of the town? These sorts of decisions are never reviewed after time so we never seem to learn any lessons.
“One big issue is the domination of vehicles in Newport, which is something I’ve been addressing for many years. In my view Newport is seen as a traffic junction rather than a place. The town needs relief from the number of vehicles just driving through it.
Newport is full of people that care and are working every day to improve it. Above all it’s important to talk up our town and be confident of the future.”
Another Newport councillor, Matt Price, said: “I am devastated for Newport’s High Street. It’s a massive blow to now lose another major national chain.
“I have been lobbying my council colleagues for parking concessions for Newport for years but have had a little traction recently and, after even more bad news, this is more critical than ever. I am hoping to get an announcement of parking concessions for Newport ahead of next week’s budget meeting.
“High Street retailers are disappearing in their droves and, as more shopping is done on-line, the worst may be yet to come. But as Covid restrictions are lifted there could be some hope for our county town yet.”
Only time will tell whether the Island’s county town will become a flourishing centre for quirky, independent retailers, or, as some predict, a ghost town.