Clone Town High Streets Cultural Studies Essay

Chapter 1


1.1 Clone Town High Streets

"Storm in a coffee cup", "Death spiral of the high street", "Town centres freezing out small shops", "Clone towns spreading across Britain", "High street in peril", just a few examples of headlines in the Daily Mail over the last eight years. Although the headlines may have been exaggerated for the purpose of attracting the reader, they are not atypical across the media more generally. Instead they all point to one thing: Britain’s high streets are under threat by developments and so-called "cloning". Clone Town Britain: the high streets of the nation losing their local identity, a controversial topic that evokes political, social and economic debates about towns and cities up and down the country.

A report entitled "The Lie of the Land" was produced by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) in 2003, which warns that Britain’s market towns are being killed off by catastrophic planning strategies. It notes that standardised blueprints and unimaginative designs of housing and high streets, has meant that wider areas of towns and cities around the country have became indistinguishable from each other. The report states that the landscape is experiencing a loss of character, a process the report brands as a "levelling down of England". A process which creates a net effect that is a frightening sense that everywhere is becoming the same. The survey results produced by the report, show that the character of market towns has been devastated by these "standardised blueprints" and developments, around urban peripheries over the past 15 years. This loss of character could be seen as setting limits on the future economic fortunes of an area.

1In Britain, the term "high street" carries cultural implications of heartening small town or suburban neighbourhoods, characterised by social strength and lasting local identity. It is a place where retailing originates and independent retailers were associated. However, shop vacancy rates across the UK have not improved, along with a continuing rise in operating costs and a common difficulty to attract the needed levels of footfall. This shows a real need to invest and develop the high street. This is needed to create jobs, in addition to allowing high street retailers to continue to provide the services to their communities, from a place that remains viable to trade. Britain’s high streets have become less respectable over the last three decades, due to the emergence of "clone towns" that are affecting British retailing spaces. The phenomenon of "clone towns" describes the trends where a package of chain stores takes over the place of local independent shops on the high street. A negative impact of urban rebranding, causing the character of many town centres to be lost and destroying the "sense of place" of towns. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) and other authors such as Simms (2005a, 2005b, 2007) have adopted a Marxist approach, in which they suggest that an overriding and imposing power of capital chains have forced consumers to change their shopping behaviour.

They have done considerable amounts of work on the concept of "Clone Towns", and have looked into the affects of cloning on towns and their existing stores, as well as consumers and retailers alike.

1.2 Dissertation Focus

This dissertation focuses on the loss of the "original" high-street, through the sameness standardised redevelopments of Britain’s Market Towns. It will take a humanistic approach with regards to research, to give the public a voice as to what they require. In particular, this dissertation will look at the case of Abingdon on Thames town centre. For the purpose of this dissertation the town will simply be referred to as Abingdon. The picture in figure 1 taken by Wilkinson (2011) looks south east, up the precinct from the charter area. The canopies and shop fronts look tired and dated and the area is in a real need of a refurbishment in order to draw people in. Therefore, a £53 million redevelopment of the Abby Shopping centre and Charter area has been approved. Taken in approximately the same place in January 2013, Figure 2 shows the work that is very nearly complete on phase one of the redevelopment. As can be seen the 1960s canopies and shop fronts have been removed, the buildings updated, and an added feature of different levels of pitched roofs, to give the town a more authentic look.

The question that this dissertation will investigative is, will the redevelopment of this historical market town just create another "Clone Town" or will Abingdon be able to retain its "Home Town" independent status? The redevelopment has created controversies between Abingdon’s residents, shoppers, shops and local authorities. This dissertation will try and uncover these controversies and compare and contrast different thoughts and feelings about the redevelopment.

Following this chapter will be the literature review. This will outline the waves of retail change, the debate of clone towns and home towns, the development of market towns, the gaps in research and the aims and objectives. The next chapter will be the methodology which comprises sections such as, the research design, the methods used and implementation, why Abingdon was chosen as good study site and the ethical issues faced in carrying out this research. A further chapter will look at the background to the study area where the location of the study site will be mapped, a background to Abingdon’s retailing and the redevelopment will be given. The results and analysis of the data will be separated into the two main themes of this dissertation, participant’s opinions on the town and the need for re-development and an Investigation into the effects on local businesses. The final chapter in this dissertation is the discussion and conclusion.


Chapter 2

Literature review

2.1 Waves of retail change

Traditionally, a hierarchical structure of the retail system was seen in British cities. Before the mid 1960s, the focus of the city and its hierarchical counterparts was described by Berry (1967). It starts with the central business district, providing the most specialist high-order goods and services. After the CBD retailing, comes the trading of convenience-goods within towns and district centres. Following this, corner shops in neighbourhoods provided the immediate residential population with a small number of convenient items. However, since the mid 1960s and early 1970s the retail environment of Western economies has undergone a dramatic change, and therefore the above structure is considered to be outdated. The importance of this change is critical to societies and economies alike, as a shift from industrial to post-industrial periods has created a significant growth in the retail sector.

Bromley and Thomas (1993) suggested the change in retail occurred due to the wide-ranging socioeconomic trends, including increased affluence and mobility due to increased car ownership. In addition, shopping behaviour influenced by consumer preferences has resulted in retail change. This is an example of the neoclassical premarket approach to retailing, and suggests that high streets have developed in a particular way because that is what the consumer wants. Furthermore, counter urbanisation trends are changing retailing, Champion and Townsend (1990) state that retailing has followed the population in decentralising from the city centre. A change in social and political attitudes is also said to influence retailing transformation. Blacksell (1991) states that people are more conscious of their time and the manners in which they use it. Shopping therefore comes into two categories, shopping as leisure and pleasure activity or a quick and efficient activity. Changing trends influencing retailing have led to the development of new patterns of shopping behaviour. As a result of these trends, the emergence of out-of-town shopping and retail parks occurred which have had a major social and economic impacts on the urban scene.

4Five "waves" of retail change and modernisation can be identified by Schiller (1986). He describes the first wave of retail decentralisation in Britain as the development of "The Superstore" in the mid-1960s. The development was most active between 1977 and 1990, and focused primarily on grocery retailing. The second wave included the initiation of "retail warehouses", which were developed from the late 1970s, and were considered to be the first "out-of-centre" retail areas. Selling big, bulky products deemed too large to sell in the traditional high street locations. The third wave was the "retail warehouse parks" or the "out-of-town retail parks". These contained a cluster of three or more retail warehouses and were located along a main road or industrial estates. A fourth wave of retail decentralisation was seen with the introduction of "sub-regional shopping centres". These were retail parks which incorporates a superstore, with at least one large non-food retailer, and a number of smaller units. The fifth and final wave identified by Schiller, is the "regional shopping centres". These are planned as fully integrated, environmentally controlled covered mall. They incorporate department stores, and the full range of smaller stores that were typically represented on the high street of the central business district.

The 1980s laissez-faire approach to retail planning and development, explains the divergences from the hierarchal trend in retailing. Subsequently, this led to the introduction of "out-of-town" centres. However, by the 1990s a strong opposition to these centres by officials, as well as locals, has led to town centres fighting back. Nevertheless, the improvement of town centres to encourage shoppers back to the traditional shopping areas, has led to a relatively new phenomenon of "Clone Town Britain".

2.2 Clone Town, Home Town debate

According to the NEF (2010), many of the UK’s towns are becoming identical "clones" of each other, where a package of chain stores takes over the place of local independent shops on the high street. The term "Clone Town" was therefore coined to describe this phenomenon. It is perceived to be a negative impact of urban rebranding, causing the character of many town centres to be lost. In the NEF report Simms et al (2005b) defines a "Home Town" as a place that is instantly recognisable and distinctive to local people as well as visitors, retaining its individual character. He also defines a "Border Town" as a town on the cusp between a "Home Town" and "Clone Town".

The term of "Clone Town" is not just used to describe the look of the town centres. It is a term used to describe the effects on trade, employment and the local economy when chain stores are overtaking towns. Conisbee (2002) states that in the past decade, nearly 30,000 independent foods, beverage and tobacco retailers have been lost in the UK, due to the opening of chain stores and supermarkets. Marshall (1961) found that particularly in the retail trade, there is a strong tendency for large businesses to drive out small ones. He argued that the main reasons for this include, better negotiated terms established by larger firms and cheaper transportation for goods. In addition, they attract customers because of the large variety of products they offer. Dawson (1979) found a variety of difficulties faced by small independent retailers. Competition from larger retailers leading to the lengthening of the working week, led to the breakdown of smaller businesses. A further reason for this is increasing rents and rates and urban development.

Traditionally, town centre high streets were full of independent retailers ranging from butchers and greengrocers to shoe shops and book stores. However, chain stores now specialise in selling all manner of products. Clarke (2000) found that over the last two decades, the number of independent stores fell by 45%, and the number of co-operative branches fell over 57%, due to an increase in retail chains. Simms (2005a, p26) accuses this replication of chain stores in every town as "unjust, unstable, unsustainable and just plain boring", suggesting that the exotic novelty of having these big chains, such as Starbucks and Costa, has now become boring and bland. He suggests that our sense of place, belonging and well-being are being attacked by the commercial customs of the chain stores that are killing the diversity of the high street. Simms (2007) states that chain stores in Britain date back to the mid-nineteenth century. Some of the first chains such as sellers of news sheets, W. H. Smith, J. Menzies, began in the 1850s are still with us today. Shoe shops also took the step to form early "multiples". But from the 1890s it was food shops and supermarkets which led to the so-called "chain store army". Simms (2005a) also states that small general stores are closing at the rate of one per day because of stores like Tesco, specialist shops such as butchers, bakers and fishmongers are closing at a rate of 50 per week. In addition to this, the targeting of the newsagent sector by small branches of supermarkets is also causing small local businesses to suffer.

2.3 Market Town Development

Parker and Axon (1998) state that historically market towns, have a focal point of trading and social activity for rural England. The ancient streets and buildings of their legacy is a fundamental part of our national heritage. However, concerns about the future viability of our market towns, arises from the fact that their traditional functions are gradually being over thrown. A report devised by consultants from the Urban and Economic Development Group (UEDG) (1994) suggested, that although many market towns had not been hit by industrial development, the change in role and pace of these towns has presented greater challenges. Common problems facing market towns include the decline in family run businesses, leading to a fall in retailing diversity which encourages shoppers to go elsewhere for their products. Williams (1992) disagrees with the suggestions that the emergence of regional shopping centres is the cause of a loss of jobs, and are destructive to town centres. He suggests that they are instead stimulating growth and attraction to areas. They are encouraged by country town shoppers as they are relatively selective in where they go, ensuring that a more interesting shopping experience is obtained, and a wider range of produce is found. This suggests that the increase in out-of-town supermarkets and shopping centres, are a direct result of meeting the needs and wants of UK shoppers. Therefore, can be seen as posing a threat to UK market towns.

In a report by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), and the Department of Environment Transport and the Regions (DETR) (2000), it is stated that market towns are being targeted as a centre for provision and growth by UK government policy. A fund was established to help market towns identify their needs and priorities for regeneration. Moseley (2000) suggests that a way for market towns to develop and to bring footfall back is by the regeneration of transport links, to encourage people to come into the town. Furthermore, this can be achieved by the development of the towns’ strong points for example, tourism. In Powe and Shaw’s (2004) study they emphasise the importance of tourism in the market town of Alnwickin, North East England, something to which the town plays upon. For example, retailing in the town has changed over the last 20 years in order to provide more for the provision of tourism and away from retailing of comparison goods. However not all towns have the capacity in leadership to play to such strengths. This is what leads to market towns being developed for retailing, using chains as anchors, to bring in footfall. From this we see the emergence of "clone towns".

Lynas (2006: no pagination) found that market towns, for example Hereford, have been subject to the "clone town" phenomenon. He states that "the town seemed to be a haven at first until I passed Waterstones, McDonalds, Starbucks and countless other chain stores" He blames the town councillors decisions of "inviting the grim reaper of global capitalism" for the death of all the independent business in a once thriving and distinctive market town. A further example of a "clone town" was identified during the NEF Clone Town survey (2004) Exeter in Devon came out as the worse "Clone Town" in Britain. It obtained a Clone Town score of 6.9 on the scale produced by the NEF because only one independent shop was found on the high street.

An example of a market town redevelopment that has controversies around the "clone town" debate is Witney’s Marriott’s Walk shopping centre in West Oxfordshire. According to (2009) work started on the £50m retail development in January 2008 to create an extension of to the town centre. Shops included M&S, Debenhams, New Look and countless other chain clothing retailers and restaurant chains, along with a five screen cinema and, a new 590 space multi-storey car park. With eight units still empty in 2010 the development was slow to get off the ground causing controversies as to whether it was a good investment. Although Witneys development was full of chain stores The Witney Gazette (2010) stated that one of the remaining units in the town’s new shopping centre would be filled by a local independent trader. In addition, Jennings (2010) reported that three new independent retailers would open in Witneys shopping centre, which is believed to add to the town’s appeal to shoppers. The development of Witney would see an addition to in "Clone Town" army if it hadn’t of been for the independent retailers fighting back.

2.4 Gaps in research

There are many gaps in the research of market towns in relation to the phenomenon of "home town" and "clone towns". One such gap is that research has not been extended to market towns in Oxfordshire. Oxfordshire is a central location with major education and tourist industries, estimated to have 9.5 million visitors each year ( population statistics, 2012). These visitors disperse around the many towns in Oxfordshire. Abingdon is one of such market towns attracting tourists, with its history and beauty. This dissertation will look into how the re-development of Abingdon town centre, will impact this town. Including whether it will create another "Clone Town" that is just the same as other high streets in Britain, or will be able to retain its "Home Town" independent status, that is a unique and distinctive place where locals and visitors alike will want to visit and shop.

2.5 Aims and objectives

The aim of this study is to investigate the development of Abingdon town centre in terms of the "clone town", "home town" phenomenon.

The objectives to achieve this aim include:

To investigate how the development will affect local businesses.

To discover the major impacts of the redevelopment and the implementation of several chain store in a small town.

To use questionnaires and interviews to find positive and negative impacts on local businesses.

To use questionnaires on local residents to find opinions on the town and the need for the re-development.

To map changing land use of retail outlets over the past 30 years.

Chapter 3


3.1 Research Design

This dissertation uses an experimental design, aimed at examining the opinions of the local people, shop owners and workers in Abingdon’s shopping district. To achieve health and safety regulations and to conduct an ethical piece of research, the secondary data used, will only be used for the purpose of this research. Permission will be gained from all relevant bodies before using the data.

3.2 Methods used and Limitations

Questionnaires were used to get a general picture of a how shoppers in Abingdon feel about the current town and the need for redevelopment. Advantages of questionnaires include, a standardised approach to collecting data, meaning gathering and analysing data is quick and simple. As well as being able to reach a large sample size. Some disadvantages include superficial answers by respondents. The use of open ended questions may generate a large amount of data that could be difficult to analyse and process. In addition to this, standardisation could also be a disadvantage due to misinterpretation of participants. A low participation rate in surveying was found as many people did not want to answer the questions and said they "were too busy" to stop and talk. See appendix 1 for an example questionnaire.

Interviews were then used to obtain the general ideas and opinions of shop owners and workers in the town centre. Advantages of interviews include a higher response rate than questionnaires. An in-depth insight into the opinions of the participant around the topic in question can also be obtained. Disadvantages include, interviewer bias if inconsistencies occur and interviews can be very time consuming. See appendix 2 for an example interview. The interviews appeared to be a challenge with some shop workers/owners only giving simple yes and no answers, being unwilling to expand on what they were saying to give any in depth sight into their opinions. Furthermore, there was difficulty with one shop in particular to get them to participate in the interview, when approached; an impolite response was given by the shop worker and therefore the shop was missed out in the interview process. This problem of refusal to speak was also seen by the building construction company. The onsite relations officer was not willing to give anything away, saying they weren’t allowed to disclose any information at all regarding the development in the town.

To assess the changing shop types over time, Goad plans were accessed from Abingdon Library. They were colour coded to compare and contrast the types of shops. With the help of a legend, chain stores, independent stores, public house/food outlets, vacant stores, charity shops and banks etc can be identified. Plans were obtained from 1974, 1984, 1994, 2004, and 2011 (for full maps see appendix 3). However, only maps from 1984, 2004 and 2011 were analysed in this dissertation. These time periods were chosen as they cover some important economic downturns these should be expected to be seen with the number of vacant outlets etc. Advantages of these types of maps include a detailed display of shape and size of shop units as well as stating what each unit was used for. A disadvantage of using these maps is that unreliable results due to misinterpretation of data from older, handwritten maps.

Further limitations from this study can be indicated through the bias of participants. The results may be biased towards the younger populations with 45, <18-29 year olds being surveyed compared to 27, 50-60+ year olds. The study is also skewed towards females with 62 women being surveyed compared to 38 males.

3.3 Implementation

Questionnaires were conducted of the local people/shoppers situated in the town centre. 100 questionnaires were carried out over the course of three weeks. The surveys were conducted in four sites in the town centre. These included the precinct entrance outside Poundland, in the market place, outside the job centre in Stert Street and outside Masons on Bath Street. A systematic sampling approach was used by asking every 15th person to walk past each point, 25 questionnaires at each site. Each survey was then collated and separated into male and female and analysed using the computer programme SPSS to obtain a statistical analysis using chi-square.

In addition to questionnaires, 40 interviews were carried out amongst the shops in the study site. This was to gather information on the positive and negative effects of the influx of chain stores into the area and how they think the development will affect them and Abingdon. The interviews were conducted by going down the four streets of the study area, entering each retail outlet that met certain criteria for example, not a charity shop, not a restaurant/cafe, not a bank. These were excluded because of the nature of sales.

In addition, the Clone Town survey (see appendix 4) produced by the NEF was used. This survey was carried out whilst walking along the four main streets of the study site. Recording the first 50 to 60 stores making a tally to note the type of shop and whether it is independently owned or part of a chain. Once the data was collected it was put into the formula given by the NEF to produce a score which in turn relates to the clone town scale.

3.4 Abingdon as a good site

Located in the Vale of White Horse, Abingdon is a historical market town situated on the west bank of the river Thames, six miles south-west of Oxford and five miles north of Didcot (Visit Thames, 2010). With evidence of settlement dating back 6000 years to the early Bronze Age and special architectural merit, Abingdon is the oldest continuously occupied town in Britain (Visit Thames, 2010). Since the 13th century the town was granted a market charter and now holds a market each Monday.

With a lot to offer in the tourist industry, with its riverside parks and gardens, space for angling and leisure facilities for tennis, swimming and boating. Abingdon’s shopping and retail industry is lacking. This is why Abingdon was chosen as a good site to be studied. The town centre has a primary shopping area which comprises Bury Street Precinct, Stert Street, Bath Street and High Street. Built in the late 1960s Abby Shopping centre, Bury Street Precinct, provided Abingdon residents with a car-free shopping area. Once considered to be a state of the art construction the town centre has seen better days with many shops now lying empty and does not fit with the modern thinking of the town centre. Therefore a £53 million redevelopment of the Abby Shopping centre and Charter area has been approved.

3.5 Ethical Issues

The main ethical issue that arises in this research is deception in gathering data from questionnaires and interviews. To overcome this informed consent from each participant will be obtained, their answers will be anonymous, and will not be used for any other purpose other than for this research. In addition to this ethical issues arise from using secondary data. If data is not widely available for the public, permission will be gained from all relevant parties before using it.

Chapter 4 - Findings

Background to study area

4.1 Location

Abingdon is a market town and civil parish located in the South of England. Figure 3 displays the location of Abingdon in relation to the UK and the South of England. It shows that Abingdon is a central location in the south, approximately 78 miles from Bristol and in the region of 88 miles from Bournemouth.

Figure 4 shows that Abingdon is approximately 63 miles west of London. In addition figure 5 shows that Abingdon is located approximately six miles South West of Oxford and five miles North West of Didcot, the nearest towns/city with rail stations to Abingdon besides Radley (Visit Thames 2010). It shows that Abingdon is located on the west bank of the river Thames in the district of the Vale of White Horse in the county of Oxfordshire. Located just off the A34, Abingdon has good access from junction 13 of the M4 and can easily be accessed via Oxford to the M40.

2The study site of the shopping district is located in the south of Abingdon approximately 500m from the bank of the River Thames as shown in figure 6. The town centre has a primary shopping area shown in figure 7 which comprises Bury Street Precinct site 1, Stert Street site 2, High Street site 3 and Bath Street site 4. Located within the main one-way system in the town which runs from Stratton Way, Stert Street and Bath Street, Bury Street Precinct is the main area in which the redevelopment is taking place.

4.2 Background to Abingdon retailing

Built in the late 1960s Abby Shopping centre (Bury Street Precinct) provided Abingdon residents with a car-free shopping area. Once considered to be a state of the art construction the town centre has seen better days with many shops now lying empty and not fitting in with the modern thinking of the town centre. The town has been constantly changing in regards to shop types and outlets and this can affect the footfall and prospects for the town depending on the types of stores the town attracts.

To assess the changing shop types over time, Goad plans comprising the years of 1984, 2004 and 2001were used. Figure 8 shows the Goad plan of the study site in 1984, approximately 15 years after bury street precinct was opened in the late 1960s. A good established set of shops appear here. It shows that there are 32 chain stores in the town centre, the majority of which are along Bury Street and a few are along high street. However the majority of the stores in the town centre at the period of time are independent retailers with 62 stores, which stretch along Stert Street and Bath Street with the odd chain stores mixed in. With a total of 13 vacant shops, Abingdon shopping districts looks to be quite prosperous and a more independent trading area.

20 years later in 2004, many things have changed. Figure 9 shows the Goad plan of the study site in 2004. It shows that Bury Street is now predominately a chain store area, with 27 of the 40 units being a chain retailer. There is also an increase in the number of charity stores in the area which could be seen as a detracting factor of the town. However, the number of vacant outlets hasn’t changed and remains at13. Independent stores are still kept to the smaller shopping areas such as Stert Street and Bath Street. The layout and structure of the town centre has not changed.

1 Inch = 88 Feet

1 Inch = 88 FeetComparing the 1984 and 2004 maps to the 2011 goad plan shown in figure 10, the number of chain stores in the precinct has decreased. Now, 21 out of the 40 stores are chain instead of the 27 shown in 2004. However, most units have not been replaced by another store and have been left as vacant outlets. This suggests that many retailers in Abingdon have closed down or gone out of business in the last decade. In addition to this, a high number of 18 vacant stores around the study site can be seen; this is the highest number of vacant outlets since before 1984. Another rise in charity shops in the town is also apparent. This can be an unattractive feature of the town and may encourage higher end shoppers to go elsewhere. The number of vacant stores on Stert Street has decreased and been filled with independent stores. However, the number of independent stores on Bath Street has dropped, with the majority now being public houses and food outlets with the addition of vacant outlets along this street. This drop in town prosperity could have been the tipping point and encouraged the council to finally push through plans to redevelop the town centre, encouraging new retailers. Thus causing a modernisation of the shopping experience.

4.3 Background to the redevelopment

Since 2009 a priority for the Vale of White Horse district council has been the health and vitality of its market towns. This aim is being achieved in Abingdon through three projects outlined by the Vale of White Horse District Council (2013). These include the Choose Abingdon Partnership, The Old Gaol Transformation and the Abingdon town Centre Regeneration. The Choose Abingdon Partnership was established in 2009, and consisted of joining the three tiers of Abingdon Government including the County Council, Abingdon Town Council and the Vale Council, with the Chamber of Commerce. The purpose of the partnership was to improve and support the economic, social and cultural vitality of the town by working on the history and existing strengths of Abingdon. Built in 1811 The Old Gaol is a grade two listed building. Once a vibrant leisure complex The Old Gaol has lied empty for years, until recently where it is undergoing a contemporary transformation into a vibrant residential and commercial property development.

The Abingdon town centre regeneration is the core strategy for improving the town’s health and vitality and is what this dissertation focuses on. It was reported by the Vale of White Horse District Council (2011), that two leases were settled with Scottish Widows Investment Partnership (SWIP) for a redevelopment of Abingdon shopping centre and charter area, combining a total of £53 million. Phase one would see the replacement of five units situated between Boots store and the main square being demolished and made into two two-storey stores. It would also see the facades of units on both sides of the precinct being refurbished with pitched roofs added. Phase 2 is the proposed £50 million total redevelopment of The Charter Area. The aim of the redevelopment is to support the wider business community, provide employment and improve the shopping experience. Table 1 shows the proposals for the new development. Wilkinson (2011) noted that the planning application for the redevelopment which was lodged in October 2011 would see the end to the 20 year debate of plans, which have never reached this stage before. The planning application stated that there is little in the centre to create a social heart and to define the centre of the town with small-format retailers. In addition to the lack of any fundamental elements in the area the town struggles to utilise its assets in any meaningful way reducing the attraction of Abingdon.

4.4 Abingdon in the news

Award winning contractors McLaren Construction were appointed to undertake the refurbishment and were contracted to start in February 2012. However, delays by legal complications meant that work started in late April. Wilkinson’s (2012) article written in April 2012 stated that even after a three month delay there was still hope for the refurbishment to be finished in time for the Christmas 2012 shopping period.

However, by August 2012 in an article by The Abingdon Herald, Abingdon’s local newspaper, Wilkinson (2012) brought to attention that the two new large stores being created would not be open in time for the Christmas trading period. It stated that even though the revamp would be finished in time for the busy trading period, the two new shops would not be filled. However walking through the town in January 2013, it is apparent that the shells for the shops are yet to be finished before they are sold, fitted out and then opened. Meaning it could still be a while before any trading will occur. In this article an interview with the president of Abingdon Chamber of Commerce, Paul Townsend (2012), stated that "It would be great if it was finished and filled by Christmas as it will boost not just the precinct, but the whole town. At the moment shops are feeling the strain with some people just not going into town". With the reduced footfall into the town because of the state of it, it is having a detrimental impact on local traders. Ian Collett (2012) the owner of The Bookstore stated that they have suffered a 50% drop in takings since work began in April.

The redevelopment of the Abbey Shopping Centre is said to make it look and feel more in keeping with the rest of the town. Cosford (2012) stated that once finished it will look much more like a high street than a "clone town shopping centre" by retaining some of its independent retailers. He suggests that the vast majority of customers to Abingdon want a combination of multiples and specialist shops to offer something different form Oxford and Didcot. The majority of independent shops are outside the Abbey Centre in an area that will not benefit from any direct development. However, his argument seems to be contradictory. He states that new multiples are what the town needs to increase the footfall into the area, which could mean putting Abingdon onto a tipping point into a Clone town.

Other developments have been implemented in Abingdon to increase the prosperity of town as well as increasing the convenience of Abingdon’s shoppers. An example of this is, Tesco Express, which have opened two new stores in Abingdon since 2011 in former pubs. One in the former Fitzharrys Arms on the Wotton Road, just round the corner from a selection of other convenience stores. The second store opened in the former Ox pub on the Oxford Road. However, these stores are affecting the local independent retailers in the area. Vairamuttu (2012) state, that they are suffering a 40% loss in less than 2 weeks, after a Tesco Express store opened three doors down in the former Ox pub on the Oxford Road, Abingdon. It may be a concern for the public that the town centre could see a recurrent problem if chain stores were to open and force independent store to close.

Chapter 5 Findings

The redevelopment of Abingdon – a controversial topic

5.1 Introduction

This section will display the data collected from the questionnaires and interviews, try to draw conclusions based on evidence and reasoning and apply these to the wider population. The 100 questionnaires collated were done so to find a significant relationship between the different population types and the opinions of Abingdon and the Development. In total 37 males and 63 females were asked wide variety of questions. These questions range from gender and age to: Primary reason for visiting the town? What do you think about the development? What does the future hold for Abingdon?

Firstly, there is a need to know whether a significant difference in the age of participants and the primary reasons for visiting the town can be found. This is important as it may influence the answers to further questions depending on the interests of the participants.

Table 2 shows the observed and expected values between the age of participants and their primary reason for visiting the town. The majority or, 31 participants stated they visited the town for the primary reason of shopping; the least popular category is work, with 19 people visiting for this reason. Using the table, chi-squared can be calculated to determine whether the results are significant or not. The chi-square value of 4.25 at 4 degrees of freedom is not significant; this is due to the significance value of 0.65 being larger than the p value of 0.05. This means that these results were more likely to be due to chance and could also suggest that the age and primary reason for visiting Abingdon town centre will not influence the answers to further questions. Knowing this a further analysis of the questionnaires can be undertaken.

Using the data collected from the questionnaires and stereotyping, we expect to see a significant difference in the age of participants and the ratings on the number of chain and independent stores in the town centre. We may expect to see the younger populations <18-29 rating the number of chain stores in the town centre differently to those of an older populations 50-60+. This may be because the younger populations are more likely to shop in chain stores. In reality what we see by looking at the graph in figure 11, is that there is no significant difference between age and the ratings. This is because an average of 71% of participants in all age categories, with 30, or 66% of, participants in the <18-29 category and 21, or 77% of, participants in the 50-60+ category, said that they believed the number of chain stores in Abingdon town centre was poor. In addition to this, the second graph shown in figure 12 shows an average of 48% of participants in all age categories said that they believed the number of independent stores in Abingdon town centre was poor. These results show that all participants believe the stores in the town centre are insufficient. This could suggest that the need to see a change in the number and types of stores to improve the shopping experience of Abingdon’s shoppers. The graphs suggest that there is no correlation between the age of participants and how they rate the number of chain and independent stores in the town centre.

5.2 Participants opinions on the town and the need for re-development

The main objective to achieve the aim of this dissertation is: To use questionnaires on local residents to find opinions on the town and the need for the re-development. To achieve this aim, participants were asked: What are the main stores you visit in the town? What would encourage you to spend more money and to visit more often? Would you like to see more chain or local independent shops in the town centre? Using these questions we can critically and statistically analyse the data to find any significance and to observe and compare trends.

The results for the first question in this section, what are the main stores you currently visit in the town centre? Is listed in the table 3, it shows the frequency of the main stores visited as stated by participants.

The shops listed were the ones of highest frequency as being favourites for shoppers in Abingdon. The table suggests that Poundland is the most popular store people visit with 39 participants visiting this store; this could be because the value for money and the wide range of stock they have. The table also shows that the clothing retail outlets also see increased amounts of trade compared to other stores with 38 participants stating they visiting at least one of listed clothing outlets, however these are female clothing stores so do not apply to the wider range of population in Abingdon, for example males. The stores in the "other" category were mainly independent stores such as Masons the material shop and Abingdon Sports.

The second question in this section is what would encourage you to spend more money and to visit the town centre more often? The results are displayed in figure 13. The data from this open question was collated into four categories, more/better shops, car parking/easier access, modernisation/better looking and other. The pie chart shows that 88% of participants would like more and/or better shops in the town. When looking at individual answers the main reasons comprised of more men’s clothing shops, more chain stores and an anchor store such as Topshop, Next, Debenhams or Marks and Spencer’s. In addition, participants would like to see an increase in individual stores, such as a music shop or an electrical shop. The chart also shows that 6% of participants would like to see better parking and easier access facilities which included free parking and more spaces. In addition to this, 5% would like to see the town centre being modernised, a better cleaner lay out with green spaces and trees making the town centre more attractive. The data from this question could suggest that local residents feel there is a real need for the re-development, to encourage more people to visit the town centre therefore increasing the footfall and expenditure in the town. The shoppers would like to see a wider range of shops easier access and better car parking along with a better looking more modern town centre.

The final question to achieve the objective is, would you like to see more chain or local independent shops being brought into the town centre? It will be tested using Fishers exact test. The data for this question was spilt into men and women. This was to see if there was any significant difference between gender and the type of stores the participants wanted to see put into the town centre. Using table 4 to display the exact and expected figures and Fishers exact test, the two tailed p value is 0.06. This means that there is no significant different between gender and what people want to see as the value is above the significant p value of 0.05. Therefore we can conclude that the data results were achieved purely randomly by chance.

It is also important to see if a significant difference can be found between gender and the amount of money the participants spend when they visit the town centre. This is important because the redevelopment can be targeted at a particular group to encourage more spending. For example, men are more likely to spend less than women because there are little, if any men’s clothing stores whereas there are more than four women’s clothing stores. From this we can expect a significant difference between the amount of money men and women spend, with women spending more than men.

Looking at table 5, the observed and expected values of gender and the average expenditure, the Fishers exact test can be applied. Using Fishers one tailed test the p value is 0.0001 meaning there is a significant difference between gender and the average expenditure as the value is below the significant p value of 0.01. From this we can conclude that there is a significant difference between gender and expenditure, with a confidence level of 99% in favour of women spending on average more than men.

To further investigate current average expenditure in the town figure 14 was devised to show the difference in expenditure and age of the participants.

The graph shows that overall, on average 69% of participants spend between <£10 and £19. With 35 participants, 77%, of <18-29 year olds are spending this amount compared to 16 participants, 59%, of 30-49 spending the same amount when they visit town. It could be suggested that at the current time the town centre is more appealing to middle aged people and encourages them to spend more. The results could also be down to income brackets. For example, the younger population, especially those under 18, are less likely to have a disposable income. This could be due to the high levels of unemployment amongst young people. Another explanation for this could be that young people are going elsewhere to spend their money, only coming into town for cheap and convenient items. Whereas the middle aged are spending more in town instead of going elsewhere to spend their money.

5.2 Investigation into the effects on local businesses

The 40 interviews collated, were done so to find a significant relationship between the different types of shops, independent and chain stores, and the opinions of local shop workers on the development. In total 23 independent stores and 17 chain stores were asked wide variety of questions, ranging the types of stores people would like to be brought into the town, to investigate how the works affecting trade and what the future holds for Abingdon and its shopping businesses? The main aim of conducting the interviews is, to investigate how the development of Abingdon town centre will affect local businesses either in a positive and/or negative light. A further aim is to discover the major impacts of the redevelopment and the implementation of several chain stores in a small town.

In order to achieve the objective there is a need to know whether a significant difference between the types of stores interviewed, chain and independent, and what stores they would like to see being brought into the town. Table 6 shows the observed and expected figures between the participant stores and what type of stores they would prefer. Using the table and fishers exact test, the two tailed p value is 0.1051 meaning there is no significant different between the participant stores and what they wanted to see being brought into the town, because the value is above the significant p value of 0.05. It can be seen that the majority of stores preferred to see more independent retailers being brought into the town. When questioned why this was, many participants said that it makes the town different from other places and should encourage people to shop here for more specialised produce. 13 participants stated they think the town needs both types of stores. A chain store such as Debenhams, would attract people into the area and the independent stores would offer a more personalised shopping experience.

Another question used in the interview to achieve the objective was: Are the works affecting trade in your shop and if so how? The results of this question are varied. Figure 15 shows that 14 out of the 40 shops interviewed said that the works were not affecting the trade in their shop. Reasons given included, they were not directly being re-developed and were out of the way of the main development area. In addition this, the graph shows that 19 shops said they are experiencing some negative impacts and difficulties as a direct consequence of the development. When questioned on reasons for the negativities, a lack of footfall came out as the main reason. It is suggested that people are coming in for specific items they need and are leaving again and are not spending time browsing. Noise, disruption and appearance are also other reasons shops are not getting the trade they need. Some shops said that customers had a difficulty in finding their store as scaffolding is covering the shop fronts and lack of signs to direct shoppers is affecting the footfall into the store. The graph shows 7 participants in the "other" category. This is a broad category which includes, 2 shops who said they were only being affected because of the negative image of the development portrayed in the media that is putting people off coming into the town. In addition, 3 shops said that they were only affected at times, such as when the building is going on outside their shop that may deter customers away or affect deliveries and back entrances. However 2 stores in this category stated they have seen increased trade since the building work started. These stores were the bakery and sandwich shops, which said the builders shopping there on their lunch breaks, encourages a boost in trade.

To achieve the objective, to discover the major impacts of the redevelopment and the implementation of several chain stores in a small town the question of: What does the future holds for Abingdon and its shopping businesses? was asked. Table 7 shows some of the positive and negative opinions of the participants about the future of the town with some suggestions that were given. The table suggests that there are some reservations from the shops as to whether the redevelopment will work, and whether it will make a positive difference on the shopping experience in Abingdon. Some of the suggestions made in the interviews will be addressed by phase two of the redevelopment for example the issues on parking. However other suggestions, such as those of making more use of the river, have not yet been considered for a development project by the local council.

6.4 Clone town Britain

The NEFs Clone Town Britain Survey II was used, and is designed to determine whether a town has become a "clone town". A figure of "cloneliness" can be produced by using the formula produced by the NEF shown in figure 16 and the clone town rating scale shown in figure 17.

The number of independent stores counted totalled 25, the total number of shops counted was 60 and the number of types of shops counted totalled 15. Using these numbers and inputting them into the formula stated above to achieve figure 18 a score of 57.25 is achieved.

Using the scale shown in figure 6 and a score of 57.25 Abingdon sits on the scale at being a border town, achieved by a score of between 50 and 65, figure 19. This suggests that the redevelopment of Abingdon town centre can have a major impact on whether the town becomes a clone town or a home town depending on what stores they bring into the redeveloped units.

Chapter 6

Discussion and Conclusion

6.1 Studies major findings

Abingdon’s retail history since the 1960s has fluctuated and a need for redevelopment has been distinguished. The development of the precinct and main shopping district in Abingdon in the 1960s created a state of the art shopping centre with new shops and a lively shopping atmosphere, which was where people wanted to come and shop. 50 years on and Abingdon’s retail sector has suffered with poor footfall and empty shop units.

The major findings highlighted by this study suggest that Abingdon is a border town, which could easily fall into either the "Clone Town" category or "Home Town". Depending on what shops will fill the empty units created by the development. The findings also suggest that local shoppers and shop workers see the need for redevelopment. This is shown through the majority of participants voted poor on the range and types of shops and therefore the need for change presents itself. However, the participants disputed on what type of stores they want to be brought into the town whether its chain stores, independent stores, or both. A significant difference in gender and current expenditure can be seen with a value of 0.001 which is below the significant value of 0f.01. It can be suggested that the current town is more focused and biased towards females, with more shopping opportunities causing them to spend more money. The redevelopment needs to focus on bringing males into the town to increase its expenditure. However this can be disputed because there is no significant difference between gender and the primary reason for visiting the town, this suggests that the difference is not in why people are coming into town, but in gender and how much people are spending.

6.2 Links to literature

The findings in this study could have been influenced by the negative media surrounding the redevelopment. For example, articles written by Wilkonson (2012) and articles by the Daily Mail as stated in the research above. Media articles such as these can have major influence on the public, as negativities are often passed on in this way. On the other hand, these findings could be true representations of how people feel about the redevelopment as they have stated that a need for it is apparent. Therefore, they may have reservations based on observation of other redevelopments in the area and are thus stigmatising the changes to Abingdon. However, encouraging statements from some of the participants suggests that the redevelopment will be a good boost to Abingdon’s shopping experience and economy.

Clark (2000) stated that the number of independent stores fell by 45% in the last two decades. This is a dramatic change in retailing and is supported and reinforced by the findings in this study. The Goad maps used in this research show that Abingdon’s independent stores fell by 59% from the period of 1984 to 2004. A similar time scale referred to by Clark, has shown that Abingdon is 14% above the national average in the closure of its independent stores.

In addition to this, the results in this study can be compared to the results found by the NEF (2004) survey. It found that Exeter, Devon had a clone town score of 6.9 on the clone town scale. However, compare this to Abingdon’s score of 57.25, it shows that there is a significant difference of 50.35 between Abingdon and Exeter. It suggests that Abingdon has a long way to go before it becomes Britain’s worst clone town. Nevertheless, it could also suggest that Abingdon is on a tipping point, and could become a "clone town" or "home town" depending on the end result of the development.

The results found in this study are in line with those found by Cosford (2012). He stated that the majority of customers in Abingdon wanted a combination of multiple and independent stores. This is reflected in the results obtained from the interviews of the existing shops where 19 stores wanted independent shops and 13 stores wanted both types of stores. However, it is contradicted in the results obtained from the questionnaires of the general public where 55 people said they wanted chain stores, 34 people wanted independent and 11 wanted both. These results could suggest that town developers and planners are taking a neoclassical approach to the redevelopment. They are providing services and retail structure that they believe the consumer would want.

Like Lyna’s (2006) observations of Hereford, where at first glance it seems to be a "home town" with independent stores along the high street. However, a further observation of the town shows that there is a cluster if chain stores. Abingdon is at risk of this factor, where independent stores are kept hidden from the main shopping precinct. This gives the impression that Abingdon is a "clone town" rather than the "border town" it is described to be. Which could influence shopping behaviours of customers, encouraging them to stick to the precinct as this is where they can get all their products from. This could have a negative multiplier effect on the rest of the town, forcing the many independent stores to close as they are not getting the required footfall and therefore the income.

6.3 Further research

Further research to be considered is to produce a similar report when the redevelopment is complete and the units are filled. By doing this a conclusive statement can be made as to whether Abingdon has retained its "home town" status, or whether the redevelopment has caused Abingdon to become another "clone town". A lack of time and knowledge of when the redevelopment will be completed has meant a conclusive statement could not be made. The NEF survey can be repeated once all shop units have been filled and the redevelopment is complete, to determine whether or not Abingdon has been affected by the redevelopment in a negative light.

In addition to this, further research into market town developments could be investigated through the investment of Mary "queen of shops" Porta. The vision is to kick start shopping trends and revitalise Britain’s high streets, which is set out in Ms Porta’s review into the future of our high streets. Abingdon and three other towns in the Vale of White horse set to receive funding to improve the town centre. Research into what the plans are to achieve this, and whether it will be a success could be a follow up research project to this dissertation.

6.4 Conclusion

The Development of Abingdon on Thames Town Centre: "Clone Town" or "Home Town"? This dissertation has covered several issues under this title. From this investigation we can conclude that, there is no simple answer to the research question.

It has been suggested that the work of the redevelopment could all be a waste of money, effort and time if they cannot fill the two new large units with a reputable retailer to bring footfall back into the town. However, these retailers will most likely be chain stores, thus encouraging more of these types of retailers into the town. This influx of chain stores could impact the existing retailers in the town.

The findings in this study are important, and are to be considered when applications for shops to move into the area, are made. The council and other relevant bodies need to consider the needs of Abingdon’s shoppers, but also need to think about retaining the individuality of the town when filling shop units. They should look at other market town developments and learn from their mistakes. The council needs to "do something different" to encourage a new wave of shoppers as well as retaining its existing customers.

To conclude, the fate of Abingdon’s retail industry and whether it can remain in the "border town" category or become a "Home Town" or "Clone Town" will depend on what retailers will fill the empty shops in the redevelopment of the main shopping district, the precinct. Therefore, no definitive answer to the research question can be given and more research will have to be carried out after the completion of the redevelopment to determine the status of the town.