Town centre stakeholders must come together to discuss the future of the high street, according to the head of St Austell Chamber of Commerce.

David Halton was speaking following the closure of Wilko last Thursday, leaving empty one of White River Place’s largest units.

 “It’s sad – I feel for the people,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see what effect this has onthe town – whether Wilko drew people in, and will they stop coming?

“As a chamber we are looking to bring everyone together as stakeholders and decision makers to sit down and talk, and see if we can find any quick wins for the empty shops in St Austell.”

Those parties include landlords, commercial agents and Steve Double MP. “We need to see if there’s anything we can come up with - find out what the challenges are, what help landlords feel they need and what’s around that they might not be aware of.”

Mr Halton has lived and worked in St Austell since 1987, and says: “The town centre has changed. Shopping habits have changed, and nothing is changing in town centres to fill the gap. It isn’t a level playing field between online and high street, and it’s something government needs to look at.

“It’s not just a St Austell problem – it’s national, even international – when I was on holiday abroad, it was the same throughout Europe.”

At the heart of the matter, says Mr Halton, is one question: “What is the future of town centres? Is it retail? I don’t know the answer.”

Cornwall Council has bought units in White River Place which are to be converted into office premises for council staff. 

 “We need to come up with an idea of what we want to use town centres for,” said Mr Halton. “The revitalisation plan is great and I am fully supportive, but it needs to be funded and then how long will it take to implement? In the meantime, we need to get a quick win to try and slow down the reduction.”

One thing that might help is that key parking sites here are not run by Cornwall Council, meaning that while other Cornish towns worry about the rising costs of their parking charges, St Austell does not face this threat.

“There are no council car parks within our boundary, which is something we’re grateful for,” said St Austell BID manager Annette Miller. “They are either private, like White River Place, or run by the town council, like the Priory.” A town council spokesperson said parking charges would be reviewed with the rest of the budget later this year, but that at present the clerk was “not minded” to increase them.

What are your thoughts on the future of the high street?   * St Austell Town Council is not moving to White River Place following the handover of the Penwinnick Road site to Treveth, as previously reported. The Town Council’s new landlord, Treveth, has confirmed it can remain at the Stable Block at Penwinnick Road for the time being, and will enter into negotiations with the Town Council closer to 2025 when the existing lease expires.