THERE is fresh optimism over the future of Swindon town centre as the new year dawns.

Big names like Debenhams and House of Fraser have disappeared from the high street since the start of the pandemic, while the face of retail has changed forever with the rise of online shopping.

Swindon Borough Council says the immediate solutions it can offer to the number of empty units are limited given central government sets local business rates, while commercial landlords set the majority of building rents and almost 1m sq ft of retail space is controlled by private companies.

Instead, it says investment is key to unlocking changes that will help revive the area and encourage new retailers to set up shop in Swindon.

The council’s cabinet member for culture, heritage, leisure and town centre Robert Jandy said: “We have good reason to be optimistic about the future of our town centre with the council leading on a £100m programme of investment over the next four years, much of which has been secured from central government. 

“But real change takes time and there will be plenty of challenges along the way. It will require the collective efforts of a number of partners to deliver the town centre we all want to see.

“Swindon’s town centre, like most high streets across the country, is currently going through a transition. People’s shopping habits are changing with a shift to online retail. Because of this, town centres need to adapt to changing times and this means providing leisure and hospitality alongside retail to draw people in.

“New businesses have already moved into the area in the recent months, despite challenges with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’ve seen three new businesses open up at Regent Circus, including the new Boom Battle Bar as well as a new supermarket and the internationally-recognised Taco Bell opening in the old Game unit on Regent Street. 

“This clearly shows there is a desire to invest in our town centre, even before our own projects come to fruition.

“The council has received several proposals for the subdivision of larger units and, while we will not be able to change the decline of national chains, we are delivering a number of interventions to enhance the look and feel of the town centre. This will help to increase the traditionally poor land values in the town centre and make it more attractive for private investors to spend their money in Swindon.

“This will include work starting on the brand new Fleming Way Bus Boulevard in early 2022. We’re also working on projects in the Heritage Action Zone including improving the historic Carriage Works and Health Hydro which will also come forward this year.

“It’s an exciting time for the town centre and we’re hopeful that with our investment, and that of private landlords and businesses, the area will continue to improve.”