HIGH streets everywhere are facing severe challenges – but in Poole, things should be looking up.

In the year that its Dolphin Centre turns 50, a nine-screen Empire cinema and four new restaurants are due to rejuvenate the area around the former Argos.

The existing shopping centre has been improved in recent times. And the chief executive of Beales revealed recently that its Poole branch was among the chain’s best performers at Christmas, while Bournemouth’s was among the weakest.

Nonetheless, Anthony Ford, president of Poole Chamber of Trade and Commerce, is cautious about the state of retail in the town.

“I think they weathered the storm better than anticipated but I still don’t think they’re positioned as well as they could be to start 2019,” he said.

“The boost for Poole is the fact that they’ve got this investment that’s supposedly taking place this year, with the regeneration around the bus station, with the cinema coming in and all that stuff.”

Mr Ford works in insolvency and restructuring. “Certainly the phone’s started to ring more often than it has for a long time, which to my mind indicates that people have tried to weather the storm but realised that, actually, it may be better retire or do something afresh because they’ve struggled to hold on for so long,” he added.

He believes more businesses will fold this year, many of them rightly or wrongly blaming Brexit.

“Their costs aren’t necessarily impacted by overseas trade or what’s going to happen but they seem to base it on the fact that people aren’t buying so much because of uncertainty,” he said.

“I think it’s easier for people to throw in the towel. Rather than say it’s because the business is in difficulty or they’ve not moved where the market is, they will just say it’s Brexit,” he added.

“There have been a lot of retailers and businesses over the last 3-4 years that have struggled and re-financed up to the hilt, to the point where they can’t refinance any more.

“The market has moved but they’re still doing the same things they were doing 5-10 years ago.”

Nonetheless, there are positive signs for the town, he said, especially at the “massively improved” Dolphin Centre.

“H&M have taken over the BHS unit, they’ve drawn some decent retailers,” he said.

“The problem is that Poole suffers at night – there isn’t much trade around the top of town.”

The arrival of a multiplex should encourage more retailers to Falkland Square and boost the evening economy. “There is a student population but a lot of students don’t stay in Poole because there’s nowhere to do anything,” he added

“Maybe with the new cinema and hopefully getting some more restaurants, that might encourage people to stay in the area.”

Another boost is the prospect of Poole becoming more of a cruise destination. Its new £10million deep water quay has put it on the itinerary of more cruise operators in 2019.

But the town needs to make sure the cruise passengers do not take their spending money to rival towns, Mr Ford said.

“The challenge for the local small business is to try and draw those people into Poole,” he added.