Canterbury Christmas Market: the saviour of the high street?

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Christmas lights on the Westgate Towers in 2017

This week saw more bad news for Canterbury high street as Debenhams announced it is to close shops up and down the country.

Debenhams and Fenwicks are known as ‘anchor stores’. They are well known brands that attract shoppers into Canterbury. The increased footfall benefits other traders as shoppers browse along the high street.

Unfortunately, the future of both anchors looks shaky, and the impact of losing them wouldn’t cause ripples, it will cause waves.

In this sea of uncertainty, Canterbury needs to be looking at how to stay afloat more than ever. We need to get people spending on the high street again.

A lot depends on the Christmas Market. It has the potential to draw in customers from across Kent. Visitors that come for the experience, but spend real money in our shops and restaurants – income that businesses desperately need. A good Christmas could mean the difference between sinking or swimming for another year.

In the past the Christmas Market has been a bit disappointing. The stalls in Whitefriars have felt rather disjointed from the traders on St George’s Street. The switching on of the Christmas lights has been a bit of a joke as technicians run between terminals, turning on sections one at a time.

Compared to Christmas markets on the continent, ours hasn’t proved anything to write home about in the past.

But could that be about to change?

Earlier this year, the council spent £75 million to take full control over Whitefriars. At the time Chief Executive Colin Carmichael said they would no longer have to negotiate with anyone else about the city centre.

Since the council now controls both St George’s Street and Whitefriars, this is an opportunity to do something really special and creative with the Christmas market.

And we can’t talk about Christmas without mentioning the role of the Business Improvement District (BID) whose most high-profile function is providing the Christmas lights.

This Christmas could be make or break for the BID as it faces being disbanded next year if businesses don’t vote to keep it.

If the vital yuletide trading period goes well business will be happy. If the experience of Christmas in Canterbury fails to wow the crowds, it’s inevitable that questions will be asked about what went wrong – and the BID could easily find themselves in the firing line.

I spent a few years living in Spain. Even during the recession, Iberian town halls could be relied upon to deliver a good Christmas spectacle. The lights were always elegant, seldom the tasteless tack we often see back home.

One has to wonder why they were able to do it and we have seemed to struggle. What do Ghent or Bruges have that we don’t?

This Christmas presents a critical opportunity to make something magical happen. Canterbury cannot afford for it to go wrong.

The Christmas light switch on takes place at 6pm on Friday 16th November.

1 COMMENT

  1. What Ghent and Bruges have that we don’t is higher tax revenues. The total tax take in the UK is 34.4% of GDP; in Belgium it’s 47.9%. We would have far better public services if we increased taxes by 40% to Belgian levels, but the voters seem to prefer lower taxes and poor public services.

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