Business leaders in a Cumbrian town have voiced their concern that high streets could suffer if companies are not incentivised to stay.

A poor economic and trading climate off the back of the Covid-19 lockdown, and uncompromising rent figures from landlords that don’t reflect the current situation, are two key reasons being outlined by key personnel in Penrith.

Three national-renowned retail brands, Clarks, Holland & Barrett, and Dorothy Perkins, are not renewing the lease on their sites in the Angel Square area at the centre of the town, with the Clarks franchise store shutting up this Saturday.

A fourth site on Angel Square, the independently-owned Shades of Wool, ceased trading last weekend with owner Elaine Slessor retiring. Meanwhile David Whipp - owner of staple greengrocers Starfruits and a former town mayor - has stated he’s also considering not renewing his lease.

Mr Whipp, who is also a Conservative county councillor, said: “I’m quite concerned about the bigger picture of the economy and the changes we’re seeing, it could be an opportunity or it could quite easily kill the town.

“We’ve been in Angel Square for 20 years but I’m quite happy to trade from wherever in the town centre as long as its in the main footfall areas. We have a strong number of loyal customers and I don’t think it will make much of a difference.

“I’m considering swapping sites and moving to New Squares, the landlord there has properties that they’ve got to let. I can’t say much on the lease figures but it is a better option at the moment.

“The landlord of Angel Square has said they won’t lower the rent but isn’t reflecting that the volume of trade is down and businesses will only stay if they decrease rent, or they’ll leave.

“Boris Johnson talks about people coming back to city and town centres, but businesses in London, Manchester or Carlisle are looking at part-time or full-time home working. My daughter was working in Edinburgh but is now based from home, thousands of office workers wont be returning, and stores like Pret or Costa Coffee that rely on that trade will be hit so all sort of businesses could still fall into crisis.”

Alongside the number of available units in Angel Square which are being marketed by Mason Owen, they are also advertising empty units on Burrowgate and Devonshire Street.

Penrith, despite being the main town of the Eden district, has had a problem with empty units dating back to the credit crunch in 2007. New Squares has a number of units never used while King Street and Castlegate have seen a growing number of vacant sites in recent years.

Currently there are 19 town centre units up for sale on Zoopla with a further 28 available to lease.

Craig Hamilton, of Hamilton Brampton Ltd, has run the staple Clarks franchise for 22 years but is having his final day of trading this Saturday, and has called it the “end of an era”.

The 56-year-old comes from a family of shoe traders, growing up above his father Thomas’ store in Brampton. With his brother Graham the company has previously had stores in Hexham, Barnard Castle and Bishop Auckland - with the latter closing earlier this year - but Penrith is the last one.

Craig said: “The family business has been running for over 50 years so it really is the end of an era but I guess there comes a time for us all. Our children are not interested in taking it over as they’re doing other things.

“The lease was up and we would have had to sign up for another 10 years and didn’t feel we could commit to that anymore and we are in the most difficult trading conditions that we’ve had.

“The coronavirus lockdown has been a major condition, but that’s not particular to Penrith and I think the town will ride it out. We had to close in March and reopened in June but it has kept people away from town centres, whether that is local people passing by or tourists. We’ve only been busier in the past month as children have had to get their shoes for going back to school.”

Five part-time staff members at the Clarks franchise will be made redundant, and Craig expressed his “thanks to all staff who have worked for us over the years, many have become good friends, and the supportive customers we’ll miss”.

Stephen Macaulay, business owner and president of the Penrith chamber of trade & commerce, accepts it is a difficult period but believes there is a lot of positives too.

He said: “If the Angel Square landlords were worried they wouldn’t have invested in the outside seating at Woodstones so they must be confident but the risk of more empty units is a worry as they can look unappealing.”

A Holland & Barrett spokesman said: “We regularly review our stores to make sure they are in the places where our customers need us most. Sadly, we’ve decided to close in Penrith. Our priority will be to help colleagues find work in our nearby stores wherever possible, and we would like to thank our customers for their support over the years. The store will close on 20th November. The nearest alternative is in Keswick.”

Clarks, Dorothy Perkins and Mason Owen were approached for comment.