Oonagh Robinson: Nottingham's shops are great... shame about the shopping centres
ANOTHER survey has painted a dire picture of Nottingham – this one claiming we're the second worst in the country when it comes to empty shops.
Funny isn't it that Nottingham always seems to be "second worst"?
Remember that hilarious Kirstie and Phil telly programme a few years back when we were the second worst place to live in Britain – behind poor old Hull?
Anyway, the new survey from the Local Data Company (no, not a clue) has revealed nearly a third of shops in Nottingham are now standing empty. That's 29.6 per cent of shops unoccupied, unloved, unopened. Only Stockport has a worse record.
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We're also eight per cent higher than Leicester and ten per cent higher than Derby. The shame.
In fact, reading this report, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a good reason to bother coming into Nottingham city centre at all.
Boarded up units, "to let" signs, tumbleweed drifting up the street, that's all you're going to get these days.
Only, it turns out this report might not be telling quite the whole story.
It was based on research carried out in November, when large parts of the Broadmarsh Centre and shops in surrounding streets were closed because of Westfield's promised multi-million pound redevelopment.
It seems the report also took a rather random definition of what actually constituted "the city centre" – using a far bigger area than other surveys.
Like one conducted by commercial property consultants FHP, which suggested only 14 per cent of shops were actually empty.
Meanwhile, the city council says Nottingham remains the fifth most popular shopping destination in the UK outside London.
So, what to believe? Reports that claim Nottingham should be afraid, be very afraid for its retail future? Or critics who say scaremongering stuff like this is not accurate and not helpful?
Well, I'm no shop guru like Mary Portas (although I did once have the same haircut), but for once I feel perfectly qualified to offer my two penn'orth.
I probably live about half-way between Nottingham and that new shopping Mecca, Derby. And I'll admit, I often choose to go to Derby in preference to Nottingham.
Or to put it more accurately, Westfield Derby. Because there is literally no point going anywhere else in that particular city, no offence.
Compared to, say, Nottingham's Victoria Centre, it's brighter, it's more inviting, it's better laid out, it's got great places to eat, it has brilliant kids' facilities and nicer loos... it's even got a Thornton's Cafe, for goodness sake. With free chocolates every time you buy a cuppa.
Add to that, you can park up easily or get a bus to the fancy new bus station, browse round all the stores, wheel your pushchair everywhere with no problems and you don't even need to take a coat with you.
It makes the Viccie Centre look claustrophobic, old-fashioned and naff.
But, no matter how wonderful Westfield Derby is for the odd visit, I will always, always return to Nottingham for those occasions when I really want to splash out. Christmas, birthdays, bank holidays, days with a 'd' in, any excuse actually.
Because quite simply, we've got much better shops here.
John Lewis, House of Fraser, Vivienne Westwood, White Stuff (or, in fact, any store in Bridlesmith Gate), Dwell, Whistles, Waterstones, M&S Furniture, River Island, Accessorise.
There's also that old chestnut folk like to throw in about Clumber Street, too. The busiest pedestrian thoroughfare in Europe (yes, busier than Paris, Rome, Milan, London – that's got to be, erm, a really reliable statistic).
Derby and Leicester come nowhere near any of that, no matter how spectacular their fancy new shopping centres are.
Yes, we shouldn't bury our heads in the sand in Nottingham. Recent weeks have seen the sad closure of some stores, and competition from online shopping needs to be addressed.
Plus it's time more was done to help independent stores like those in Hockley and Derby Road. Scrapping the silly extended parking charges for starters.
But there's also no point in painting an inaccurate picture of a city centre full of sad empty shops, when anyone who's been here on a typical bustling Saturday afternoon can see it's poppycock.
Oh yes, and someone bulldoze the Broadmarsh, that should help matters no end.