Clone town Dumfries … like so many others

THE historic town of Dumfries has been named as Scotland's leading "clone town", with more chain stores and less variety than anywhere else in the country.

• Dumfries 1957: Local shops where now the chain stores rule

The research has highlighted the rising prevalence of town centres consisting mainly of national brand names that are becoming rapidly indistinguishable from others as independent stores close only to be replaced by burger bars or coffee shops.

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The figures by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has found 41 per cent of Britain's town centres could now be classed as clone towns, where at least half the stores in the high street are part of a chain and where they is less variety for local shoppers.

The study showed only 36 per cent of high streets can boast that 65 per cent or more of its stores are independently owned.

The foundation surveyed 117 British town centres, including London suburbs, giving each a diversity rating out of 100 depending on variety and lack of chain stores.

The historic market town of Dumfries, once home to Robert Burns and Thomas Carlyle, came ninth in the UK list with a rating 25, and was the only Scottish town in the UK top ten.

• Once-familiar family firms, long lost and lamented

According to Brian Sherman, branch secretary of the local Federation of Small Businesses, the rise of the chains in Dumfries started back in 1980s.

He said: "It's been a gradual build-up over the years, and it's caused a drain of independent shops. Also, we have the usual share of charity shops and empty premises, which doesn't help to create a good ambience for shoppers to come here.

• Dumfries today: a town centre like so many others, with chain stores, charity shops and coffee outlets everywhere Picture: Robert Perry

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"The problem is that the small independents can't stay in the town centre, and it's never going to be the same. It's very sad.

"There is a Dumfries Regeneration Committee, we meet every couple of months, but it doesn't seem positive; it all seems to be going towards the big chains.We're being hammered."

He said the opening of the Loreburne Shopping Centre in the heart of Dumfries during the Eighties heavily skewed the ratio of chain stores to independents, as it consists mainly of big names such as Argos, Next and HMV.

He added that the problem had been compounded by the development of out-of-town supermarkets draining trade from small shops.

The list was topped by the university town of Cambridge, which had diversity rating of just 11.6.But the overall UK picture is of a retail landscape where one high street looks remarkably similar to another, with its rows of similar stores and lack of local identity, said NEF.

Unfortunately, it also means these towns suffer during a recession when big retailers shut stores to save money, regardless of the effect it has on local economies, it added.

Report co-author Elizabeth Cox said:"Our high streets could become places where shopping is just one small part of a rich mix of activities, including working, sharing, exchanging, playing and learning new skills.

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"As the hub of our communities, the high street could become the place where we begin to build a more sustainable world."

Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies at Stirling University, said the phenomenon of "clone towns" was driven by consumer demand and local landlords.

He said: "It's clear customers respond well to chains but at the same time there a mixed view in that many would like a high street with much more choice. The problem is, when people are offered a choice between a local coffee shop and, say, a Costa, they will go to the Costa."