I AM about to complete my 50th year working and trading in Bournemouth Town Centre but I have , after decades of effort, tried to remain out of the current debate on how to revive Bournemouth Town Centre.

Bill Grimsey predicted this retail malaise on Britain’s High Streets in his book “Sold Out” twenty years ago.

I was pleased to have had some hand in the removal of the guano encrusted Lucerne Arch so despised by author Bill Bryson but it is a small victory amid an almost irrevocable decline.

My mother worked in Beales before and after the Second World War , I worked there , my children worked there ( guess where my mum got the inspiration for my first name ) and I moved my business across the road in 1976 where I remain to this day....waiting for customers.

An empty car parking space cannot be sold tomorrow. If it’s empty today , it’s in the wrong place , at the wrong price , or there’s nothing to come to Town for. It seems to be all three reasons these days in horrific harmony.

I campaigned in the early 1980s to have Old Christchurch Road pedestrianised.

I went into battle against the council on A Boards and car parking in the early 1990s, I became President of the Chamber of Trade and Chaired 60 consecutive monthly meetings in that role at their Local Government Affairs meetings representing the needs, frustrations , suggestions and fears of business and especially retail across the Borough of Bournemouth.

The council gave the Chamber £120,000 from their Recession Fund sixteen years ago which the Chamber put to good use rising to 760 member companies.

I chaired also the Bournemouth Town Centre Management Board, sat on the Town Centre BID steering group and board for a decade , created and convened the Richmond Hill and Albert Road stakeholders group, hosted the Town Centre Business Forum , contributed to the council’s Retail Round Table, and supported the BCP town centre councillors with my daily on the ground knowledge , experiences and observations.

The previous administration even created a Cabinet Lead for Retail.

How successful was I ? Well , woefully not at all.

A Town that once had seven department stores now has none. Some days it was hard to catch a Yellow Bus as they were all full, even after our bus station burned down.

And in my early days, the buses were electric, silent and non-polluting.

Now the shops are silent, using no electricity and keeping the thoroughfares clear and peaceful.

Landlords are now reducing the rents offsetting the unrealistic business rates model that still seems to assume we have city footfall.

The town centre master Vvsion of the mid-noughties has seen more town centre residential properties while, in all but one development , achieving a one-for-one replacement parking space criteria and new multi-storey car parks being created.

Alas, except during the Air Festival and when free at Christmas they are now never full ( c.8,000 spaces in the town centre ).

One quarter , we lost five shoe shops and now we are losing coffee shops and restaurants. The Ivy have presumably made their decision too.

So, where are we now ?

I can only reiterate a one-time slogan of Yellow Buses during a previous downturn.....”Use us or lose us”.

And, if a car parking space is empty then the cars not there and neither is the shopper.

Nigel Hedges

Granville Place