This week Debenhams announced the closure of two stores, including the one in Eltham leaving the High Street missing one of its major names in 2018. This announcement has revived concerns about whether the Council has put enough thought into supporting the shops in Eltham or has a plan to ensure that our town centre remains vibrant in the future.
With many residents questioning the reduction in parking on the High Street, the increase in parking charges in Sainsbury’s Car Park car park (ultimately owned by the Council) and the plan which is based upon the closure of the Post Office & BT there is now a very real danger that Greenwich’s Labour Council is pushing Eltham’s shopping centre into a downward spiral.
The prospect of Debenhams closing stores was raised in April 2017 nationally and in June local I published an open letter raising concerns about whether the Council was doing enough to encourage the chain to keep Eltham open. Things looked more positive in July when Debehams sent a representative to the Eltham Town Centre Partnership, but the closure of such a major retailer this week is a hammer blow for the High Street.
An idea of the scale of the problems was shown in a recent post on Facebook which read:
“Most people I speak to who go to Sainsbury to shop now go to Lee as it’s free there or Charlton . Such a shame as it is affecting other shops.”
My colleague Eltham North Cllr Charlie Davis has been pushing for a proper review of the Eltham Town Centre Masterplan something which clearly now cannot come soon enough.
The work done in Eltham by TfL as a result of the Conservative Mayor of London, combined with the arrival of a cinema next year should have made our High Street an ideal place for Debenhams to remain open – we need to know why this was not the case and plan to help revive Eltham High Street, something which should start with a proper review of the plans for the future aiming to make sure major retailers, the police station, the Post Office and BT retain a presence here.
For reference, my letter to the Mercury newspaper in June 2017 read as follows:
To the Editor:
Debenhams plans to cut stores continues to make news, since their announcement in April, which is why I have been surprised by Greenwich Council’s failure to try to proactively protect the store in Eltham.
I know rumours are swirling around Eltham about the store being under threat but until I enquired about the potential closure at the end of May, Greenwich Council does not appear to have been in contact with Debenhams at all. Even when Council Officers did get in touch, it appears that they did not speak to the Head Office (where I assume decisions are made) but instead to the area manager.
I simply cannot understand how senior Labour Councillors have not been lobbying hard to ensure that the Debenhams in Eltham remains open. Conservative investment on the High Street by the last Mayor of London and the Council’s reaction to our pressure on things like the cinema mean that there is a positive story to tell in Eltham, but someone has to tell it to Debenhams’ Chief Executive.
Although I accept that taxing rather than protecting businesses is Greenwich Labour’s preferred policy at the moment, the ruling group on the Council need to step up their efforts on this issue to protect the Debenhams on Eltham’s High Street.
Conservative Councillor for Eltham North Ward