Three Kent towns in retail health check list top 25

Tenterden, Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells do well while Bluewater plummets

A new ranking was released a few days ago looking at the health and vitality of retailers in towns and shopping centres across the country. In it, three areas of Kent have done rather well, thank you, featuring in the top 25 throughout the UK while one shopping area in the county has suffered a rather dramatic fall from grace.

At the heart of it all is our good mate the Covid-19 pandemic which has influenced a switch from major shopping centres back to cosier high streets.

In the rankings from retail property advisors Harper Dennis Hobbs (HDH), Tenderden has been ranked third, Sevenoaks sixth and Tunbridge Wells 24th out of 1,000. The big fall was experienced by Bluewater which slid by almost 200 places from fifth to 204th. To give that dip some context, London’s West End fell 339 and Canary Wharf 531. People have not been going to work or straying far to shops in between lockdowns.

The column to concentrate on is to the right of the place name. Those are the most recent rankings

Tenterden moved up 36 places to arrive in the top three, while Sevenoaks has jumped 24 places since the last Vitality List (in 2019), despite restrictions and lockdowns due to the global pandemic. This is in part because of a shift in shopping habits, meaning consumers are more likely to support local shops and businesses. Tunbridge Wells rose by 64 slots to hit ranking No 24.

The list judges the ‘retail health’ of a town by looking at different features, including the change in residents’ movement, vacancy rates (empty shops) and suitability to local consumers’ demands. HDH then put together a list of the top 1,000 retail centres in the UK.

Cabinet member for People and Places in Sevenoaks, Cllr Lesley Dyball, says: “The past year has been extremely difficult for town centre businesses, they have had to adapt very quickly to changing circumstances and learn how to operate differently. Sevenoaks’ independent businesses have stepped up to these challenges, providing new products and services, coupled with a safe place to shop. To be named sixth best retail centre in country is testament to how well our businesses have adjusted and how much residents want to support local retail.”

Cllr Dyball adds: “Despite the huge challenges of the past year we have seen new independent businesses open in Sevenoaks, with more to come. This is an exciting time for the town and we are looking forward to all the shops and hospitality venues across our district reopening so our towns can continue thrive.”

The HDH Vitality List was published on February 8. In his foreword to the report HDH chief executive James Ebel says: “It is no surprise that Harper Dennis Hobbs’ 2021 Vitality Ranking looks very different from previous years. Reflecting on our previous Vitality Rankings in 2019, we discussed the changing face of the high street, and at that time, it would have been impossible to imagine the events that we faced over the past 12 months.

“The pandemic’s impact means that the shopping destinations that would normally occupy the upper reaches of the list have fallen and have largely been replaced by more local retail centres in prosperous areas that provide convenience and essential product categories.

“It is hoped that the stronger connection to local high streets continues, but it is also important to note that the strengths of major cities and shopping districts have not simply disappeared.

“The fundamental retail factors that set the major shopping destinations apart from other areas remain. We fully expect to see them return to vibrant, bustling retail centres in line with restrictions easing and consumer confidence returning.”

Perhaps Bluewater can take comfort from these words.

To find out more visit where you can give your email address and gain access to the report under the news section.


David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past local weekly publications he has worked for include: the South-East London Mercury* covering the Borough of Greenwich as a junior reporter; Orpington-based News Shopper as a sub-editor; and the Kent Messenger when based in Larkfield, Maidstone, as deputy chief sub-editor. He has also worked for the following dailies/nationals: Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor on a car fleet magazine. His first foray into property ownership saw him move from London to Rainham (the Gillingham, Kent, variety). He has subsequently lived in Chislehurst, Petts Wood and Orpington in the Borough of Bromley (which he still regards as being in Kent). In more recent years he owned three different properties on the Kings Hill (West Malling) development.

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