Arcade could blight the whole district

Last week Ian Davison reminded us that the argument for Clarendon Arcade is based on retail forecasts written in 2009. It is striking that Wilson Bowden offers no new assessment with its recent application - presumably because an up-date would indeed destroy their credibility.

During recent years there has been much news and debate about first the banking crisis and then government debt. But the key consideration for retailing is household debt. Over the last two decades personal debt has almost doubled: on average every household in the country now owes £16,000 and that is excluding mortgages. This puts huge pressure on households to curb their spending and, if possible, to pay back some of that debt.

But that is not all. Cost of living is running ahead of wages and most people are gradually getting more hard up. Interest rates are currently at an historic low. This has been a lifeline for mortgage holders but rates can only rise in years to come. Pensions are being severely squeezed in the public sector. At the same time private pension pots have declined with a falling stock market. Contributions will have to rise sharply, simply to keep up.

There is a tendency to believe in recession as a dip, a passing event, but this ignores the extreme situation now in play. Across the developed world mature economies are stagnating, with both Europe and the USA mired in debt, while Japan is still unable to move on from lost decades.

As British households struggle to reduce their debts, all the indications are that this will be a very lengthy process. The prospect is a squeeze on consumer spending for some five to ten years at least. This is particularly true of spending on so called “comparison” goods. The developer’s Retail Statement, even in 2009, was probably highly optimistic in its forecasts. By now those predictions are simply looking untenable.

In its application letter, Wilson Bowden refers to a “Budget for Growth” and the importance of job creation, as if the mere repetition of the words will conjure up hordes of new shoppers with bulging wallets.

In simple terms the developer’s argument is that they have to get their way or Leamington will decline. A big shiny new mall would set the tills ringing and the planning committee will not dare to say no.

What if the arcade is built and more shoppers do come, but not in great numbers. Meantime shops in the Priors start to close, other parts of Leamington will also struggle, not to mention Warwick and Kenilworth losing trade. The blight caused to Warwick district could be severe. - Richard Ashworth, Willes Road, Leamington