IT is the Yorkshire spa town to where crime novelist Agatha Christie famously disappeared in1926. Fast-forward to today, and Harrogate is in the spotlight over another mystery that even Miss Marple would find difficult to solve.
“Harrogate: What happened when the shops left town” is the headline of a story of insolvency pressures that is trending across the BBC News website and social media accounts.
It follows an investigation by the BBC News business team into the nation’s High Streets that are facing the biggest financial and insolvency struggles.
And for Harrogate, which not long ago was crowned the UK’s happiest town, there was little for businesses to smile about – as it was named as the UK hotspot for the restructuring deal known as a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA).
Leeds also featured in the CVA top ten list, which has shined a light on the scale of the insolvency challenges facing shops, cafes, restaurants and bars across North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire.
A form of insolvency proceedings, a CVA is an agreement between a company and its creditors, such as landlords and suppliers, and its shareholders.
A CVA ring-fences the business’s historic liabilities and allows it to continue trading, paying a proportion of future profits to creditors, or to conduct an orderly realisation of its assets.
Despite growing insolvency challenges across the retail and leisure sector across Yorkshire and the rest of the UK, the BBC research showed that Harrogate had previously weathered the economic storm better than most places.
But a far cry away from the cream teas and quaint streets for which Harrogate is renowned, there are now gaps on its insolvency-hit High Street, the scale of which has never been seen before.
In the past two years, the town centre has been victim of a succession of big name chains pulling out as they fought off insolvency – such as Topman, Miss Selfridge, Cath Kidston, Prezzo, GAP and Jamie’s Italian.
The travel agent store occupied by Thomas Cook before it collapsed into insolvency last month also stands idle.
A few streets away, the Early Learning Centre is still sitting empty some nine months after its management completed a CVA.
And a big question mark hangs over the future of the flagship Debenhams building as the department store looks at its own business turnaround plan amid mounting insolvency pressures.
According to insolvency research compiled for BBC News by the Local Data Company (LDC), 23 chains in Harrogate have completed CVAs since January last year.
Harrogate businessman Robert Ogden, who jointly runs a family jewellery business on James Stree , was asked to give his insight on why so many of his retail neighbours were battling insolvency.
”Five years ago it would be unheard of to have large empty units on James Street, the prime shopping street in our town. Businesses were fighting to get into these units,” he said.
“I suppose we all got a little complacent and thought it wouldn’t happen here.
“The cost of trading in Harrogate is quite high. The rents are high, the rates are high and if footfall just drops off a fraction, it becomes less viable for these larger chains to trade from Harrogate.”
Other retailers shared his view, saying no business in Harrogate was immune to insolvency – and called on the local council to introduce free parking to help revitalise the High Street.
The research comes just a fortnight after another piece of insolvency research published by the BBC revealed that 16 shops were closing across the UK every day as retailers restructure their businesses and more shopping moves online.
Fashion retailers saw the biggest declines with restaurants, estate agents and pubs also struggling the most to escape the insolvency axe.
- You can read the full BBC News article “Harrogate: What happened when the shops left town” here
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