Retail property specialist Harper Dennis Hobbs (HDH) has published a ranking of the top 500 British retail centres, and Dudley, in the Midlands, has come last.
Dudley council officials say the ranking is bogus.
The chart, HDH’s Vitality Index, takes into consideration the value and prestige of shops on each street, rather than just the number of transactions within them. This lets HDH compare small centres with fewer shops against bigger, busier high streets. A village high street with a handful of craft shops would score higher than a big Tesco, although the supermarket probably has a greater number of transactions and makes more money, for instance.
At the top of the chart is Westfield London, the mega-mall in Shepherd’s Bush, home to 265 retailers. Apple, Anthropologie, and Burberry are among the brands on offer there. It was closely followed by two other high-end London retail areas, Chelsea and Knightsbridge.
But at the bottom of the ranking is Dudley: the West Midlands town scored low on all the parameters analysed by HDH. These included the ratio of premium retailers to value or discount retailers. That ratio is regarded as an index of the faith that the retailers have in their location. It also looked at the vacancy rate. The more empty shops, the less appealing the location is.
Dudley’s Churchill Shopping Centre is anchored by Home Bargains and Iceland. Twelve of its 52 units are vacant, according to the centre’s web site. (It doesn’t help that Dudley’s retailers were once forced to board-up their storefronts when the far-right English Defence League staged a march through the town — which devolved into a running battle with the police — in 2010.)
Controversially, HDH also considered the presence of “out-of-fashion” retail tenants, meaning shops whose brands damage the appeal of the location rather than enhance it. Jonathan De Mello, HDH’s head of retail consultancy, explained it in this way: “A reduction in vacancy rates is not always positive if those vacant units are filled with what could be perceived to be ‘out-of-fashion'”. This measure ranks an area down if it has a high number of chains, betting shops and payday loan centres.
Judy Foster, Dudley Council’s cabinet member for regeneration, told Business Insider that investments totalling “circa £200 million” are coming to Dudley’s town centre. She also disputed the accuracy of HDH’s ranking:
If companies took the time to visit Dudley instead of writing reports in their offices using unreliable and out of date information, then the regeneration and undeniable buzz in Dudley town centre would be unmistakable. Maybe then at some in the future credible information could be released to support town centres, rather than commercially damaging them.
We took a tour of Dudley via Google Street View to see why HDH ranked Dudley so poorly.
Charity shops, like the Salvation Army at 193 High St., might be good for low-income shoppers but they hurt Dudley’s reputation as a whole.
So do pawnbrokers, like this one at 215 Wolverhampton St.
Pay-day loan stores have the same effect, we found TWO next to each other at 204 High St.
Betting shops, like this in Stone Street, are another category of “unfashionable” shops that lower your HDH rank.
Another issue: bingo halls. Dudley has four in its outskirts. This one is in Brierley Hill.
The vacancy rate is another important parameter in the ranking. This is in the High Street:
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