Doncaster town centre’s visitor numbers have plunged by more than a quarter in the last seven years, figures have revealed.
Now officials are planning to bring in free Wi-Fi in a bid to encourage more people to use the area. Figures collected by Doncaster Council and published in an official report have revealed a fall in footfall – people visiting the town – by an average of 28 per cent since 2007.
The figure does not include the Frenchgate Centre.
It also reveals that 67.2 per cent of borough residents never visit Doncaster in the evening.
Reasons for the drop are not detailed in the report.
But suggestions have included the rise in internet shopping, the influence of an improving Frenchgate Centre, the number of of charity shops and betting shops and an atmosphere that can some can find intimidating.
Conservative group leader Coun James Hart said he thought the Wi-Fi plan was a good move.
But he said: “The drop-off in visitors could be down to a combination of things.
“I think internet shopping does not help the town centre at all, but I don’t think out of town shopping has been a factor in that period, as most of those centres were there in 2007.
“I think there is an issue of the quality of shops and we should be doing more to bring in independent shops. At the moment there are too many £1 shops, charity shops and betting shops.”
He thought improvements to the Frenchgate may be a factor, and felt the town centre could sometimes be intimidating to under 40s, although the night time economy had a lot of strengths including the shows now on at Cast theatre, which were having a positive knock-on effect on restaurants.
Police have been targeting antisocial behaviour in parts of the town centre, and market traders have complained about street drinkers in the town.
The council’s assistant director of trading services and assets, Dave Wilkinson, said: “The system used to measure town centre footfall is not advanced enough to provide reliable data, and we are planning to invest in an updated and more modern system to get a better idea of visitor levels. The current method calculates the average from just two days’ footfall to provide a quarterly figure, and footfall on these days can be affected by any number of other circumstances, including bad weather or big events that might bring in more visitors.
“However, we do know that there is more work to be done to improve footfall in Doncaster town centre, and that is why we are always thinking of new ways to attract more visitors.”
Officials believe bringing in free Wi-Fi will encourage more people to visit the town centre.
The report written for Mayor Ros Jones and her cabinet states: “If we are to attract people to visit, spend time and spend money in Doncaster, it needs to appeal to all population groups, not just those shopping and spending money.
“This can often need to be other activities to keep a family occupied to increase the time spent and business generated such as using technology.”
Former president of Doncaster Market Traders Federation, Mick Maye, said: “I don’t think free Wi-Fi is what we need. People want to be able to get to where they want to go to, and they want to be able to park there.”