Thank you to the two Dartmouth people who responded to my recent letter in the Dartmouth Chronicle about footfall. Both Simon Drew and Cllr. Tony Fyson responded and I reproduce their letters below with my response following:
Firstly Simon Drew:
I am perplexed about Paul Reach’s obsession with footfall figures, Letters, November 3.
I cannot see how they bear any connection with reality. We certainly haven’t seen any decrease in our business this year and others I talk to agree. There also seemed to be just as many people at the food festival and I would be surprised if the fantastic organisers of the festival thought there was a 27 per cent fall in numbers, as these strange figures claim to show.
One of the cameras – there are only two – is in Foss Street, between our gallery and our old shop, that we closed last Christmas.It’s no exaggeration to say that, with seven members of staff moving between the two shops, at least 100 trips per day were registered on the camera in that way. Footfall cameras are notoriously ineffective measures of real business.
If Paul wants more visitors, we need look no further for town improvements than the wonderful team at Dartmouth Green Partnership. They slave away to keep Dartmouth so beautiful and do more good than 100 adverts.
Foss Street, Dartmouth
Response: Firstly Simon, as I said in my last report the Fosse street camera is no longer operating so all of the comparison figures I have published relate to Dartmouth Quay only. The cameras used by Springboard have been independently audited to be 98% accurate. See the extract from their website below:
Springboard counting data has been confirmed to be 98% accurate by a third party auditor. In addition, our data team check every line of footfall data each day to verify the accuracy of the data before it is uploaded to the system or sent to you.
I am of course pleased that you have maintained your business levels but as a business that sells merchandise through other agents and distributors I would expect you to be less effected by drops in footfall. My own old gallery has not been adversly effected because they can make full use of the internet and constantly improve their offer to their customers. However there are many businesses in town such as the cafes, ice cream shops etc that are directly effected by drops in footfall and I have spoken with a few who confirm the scale of the problem. I would also expect the accommodation providers to see a reduction in occupancy rates so it would be interesting to hear from some of them if that is the case.
Of course the Dartmouth Green Partnership do a great job but if the visitors are not coming here then they cant appreciate our fabulous displays. The point I was making was that the Town is just as fabulous as it always was, partly thanks to the Green Partnership, but we are simply not marketing it effectively.
As I said in my letter the first step towards solving a problem is recognising that you have one. Sadly I suspect you do not agree with my concerns about the developments in Dartmouth, but until we work together to address them I am afraid the trend will continue. Remember I started the Dartmouth BID because I was concerned about a consistent 10% drop in footfall every year for the preceding 5 years. So this is not a new problem and appears to be worsening.
And now Cllr. Tony Fyson:
Paul Reach’s records of declining footfall in Dartmouth’s retail streets, Letters, November 3, are always interesting but may not bear the interpretation he places upon them.
His confident assertion that the town is in the throes of a disproportionate reduction in visitor numbers is unsupported by any analysis of exactly whose feet have gone missing in recent years.
To answer this question we have to consider a relevant but largely unnoticed restructuring of our town that appears to be well under way and is affecting the residents’ patterns of behaviour, as well as the attractions of the place to tourists.
This phenomenon is centred on the rise of Townstal as the location for new shopping, education, recreation and other service facilities, with the planned medical centre and new housing in the pipeline.
Increased investment in Townstal is welcome and long overdue in an area known to suffer pockets of deprivation. The downside may be undesirable impacts on the economic and social future of the historic lower town.
Mr Reach is wrong to imply that the town council is unaware of all these issues, including the knock-on effects of falling numbers on the streets and the importance of tourism.
One Townstal councillor reported recently that he now rarely finds a reason to go down the hill and another claimed that, as the oldest district, Townstal seems set to reassert its dominance of centuries ago. Yet it is the lower town’s historic attractions that visitors come to see and enjoy.
It is likely that the town’s neighbourhood plan will need to address this problem on the basis of sound research rather than hunch.
Whether a steep decline in visitor numbers is the only or even the main reason for the observed footfall reductions remains to be discovered.
So it seems to me that Mr Reach is exactly right to call for more direct evidence of trends in tourism activity in the town. But he would do well to obtain it before reaching a conclusion.
Cllr Tony Fyson
Above Town, Dartmouth
Thank you for your observations Tony. I agree there has been a shift in the retail focus in Dartmouth over the last 5 years with the opening of Sainsburys and Lidl at the top of town and this will certainly have changed the pattern of shopping of many residents and visitors. However the comparisons I am publishing relate to only last year so this effect should have stabilised by now. I also believe that tourists will mainly be visiting the lower town as I cant see them sitting on benches alongside the Sainsbury’s car park.
I also agree that it is dangerous to analyse the footfall figures without more research to understand what they really mean. But I am just one bloke with no budget, access to footfall numbers and a healthy concern for the town I love. Without analysing the numbers I still think a 20% drop is something we must be concerned about. Having worked in the past in the IT industry I have seen too often the effect of complacency when the market has changed. Many of the businesses I worked alongside have disappeared now because they did not respond to market changes quickly enough.
I am simply flagging one indicator that Dartmouth is losing its visitors in the hope that people with the money and the responsibility for Dartmouth’s economy wake up and respond to what I see as a big challenge. I also know you, The Town Council have the funds to help but choose to spend them on refurbing the Guildhall for instance.
At least someone has engaged with the debate so I will battle on!