A leading Newport business will not reopen when lockdown restrictions for shops are lifted on April 12 – but the town’s future is far from bleak according to IW councillor, Julie Jones-Evans.
This week, ATS Euromaster in South Street, which has been shut for months, finally announced it was closing for good. All the ATS Euromaster services, except breakdowns, will now be offered at its other site at Spithead Industrial Estate in Lake.
The closure follows other big-name businesses vacating the town, including the likes of Poundstretcher, HMV, Laura Ashley, Monsoon and the Co-op with its Post Office.
It was also rumoured, earlier in the week, that outdoor sport specialist Mountain Warehouse was also going to close when a ‘to let’ sign was put up on its outside wall. However, a company spokesman said that, in fact, it will be reopening both its Island stores in Newport and Ryde, and is looking to relocate to a bigger store in Newport later in the year.
An Independent, Cllr Jones-Evans, whose ward is Newport Central and who owns the Dragonfly Emporium in Nodehill, says this could be just the boost the town needs.
Cllr Jones-Evans firmly believes the Shaping Newport project can help change the dynamics of the town and said: “Part of the problem is that the big multiple stores come into a town and want to homogenise the stores to make them all look the same. They want to come here because there is a huge footfall but then, when they decide to leave because of national pressures, there is a huge void to fill.
“Businesses have closed because of the pandemic but maybe this is the catalyst for a natural shift to change the shape of shopping.”
Shaping Newport is a project which includes the Isle of Wight Council Regeneration team, Newport Business Association, and Newport and Carisbrooke Community Council and aims to change the town for the better.
Cllr Jones-Evans added: “This week we have had planning applications for the old BrightHouse site and 51 High Street, the former Car Phone Warehouse, which are opposite each other.
“We’re in talks with the Post Office and, maybe, we will have two smaller Post Offices in town in the future rather than one big one.
“It’s so easy to say that Newport is finished, but that isn’t the case. We have a grant from the High Streets Heritage Action Zones for £1.4million of investment. This is a Government-sponsored programme to transform high streets into thriving town centres through the power of heritage.
“We want to see shop-front improvements and use the upper floors for housing rather than storage. Some of the bigger stores can also be turned into smaller outlets so there are more shops on the site who will, in turn, pay less in business rates.
“If you walk down Nodehill, Holyrood St or Pyle St at night you can see people living above the shops. People living in the centre bring a vibrancy back to the high street which is what we want to see.
“For too long, the IW Council has seen Newport as a cash cow. There are just 144 parking spaces which offer free limited parking in Newport, compared to 346 in Ryde. This is a massive disparity.
“So, my message is: ‘Let’s not panic – there are brighter times ahead for the town and our High Street’.”