Power cut an unwanted present for Harrogate retailers on key shopping day

IT was supposed to be one of the busiest shopping days of the year but for one Yorkshire town a major power cut left customers fuming and managers counting the cost.

While leading retail outlets such as Meadowhall in South Yorkshire and the White Rose Shopping Centre in Leeds welcomed tens of thousands of eager shoppers it was a very different picture in Harrogate on Saturday.

Stores had to shut early as the light faded and customers were told they could only accept cash – no credit or debit cards could be processed.

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Problems began just after 1.30pm when an 11,000 volt electrical equipment failure at one of Northern Powergrid’s main substations supplying Harrogate led to nearly 20,000 customers experiencing a power cut.

North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service were quickly on the scene after receiving a call that there was a smell of burning from an electrical sub station in the Jennyfields area.

Two fire engines raced to the sub station while officers released three women stuck in stores in James Street.

Northern Powergrid apologised to customers affected by the power cut, saying its first priority was to restore power to customers as quickly as possible. An investigation into what caused the equipment to fail will follow.

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John Barnett, Director of Customer Operations, said: “We sincerely apologise to all customers affected by today’s power cut and for the inconvenience that was caused in parts of Harrogate town centre.”

Don Mackenzie, leader of Harrogate Council, said: “Our Emergency Planning Team was busy all afternoon. The Victoria Shopping Centre was closed, as was the Victoria Car Park.

“Officers had to go to the Jubilee Car Park where barriers had stuck in the closed position. Tickets were not being recognised. The duty manager opened the barriers manually to allow motorists to depart.

“I was particularly concerned about the economic impact on the town after what can only be described as a very challenging year.

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“To have what must be one of the busiest shopping days disrupted by a power cut is unfortunate to say the least.”

Richard Levick of luxury North Yorkshire food company Lewis and Cooper, which opened its latest store in Harrogate three weeks ago, said: “We were unable to accept credit or debit cards and had to close at 4pm because of the lack of light. Customers were really understanding.”

Meanwhile the White Rose Shopping Centre saw crowds of more than 100,000 people descend on its store over the weekend. Duty manager Dean Stratton said: “We are very pleased with how things have gone this weekend.”

There were fresh warnings that retailers face a bleak Christmas yesterday despite reports of crowds of shoppers braving the cold to snap up gifts in the last full weekend before Christmas.

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Capital Shopping Centres, which owns some of the biggest retail sites in the UK, Glasgow’s Braehead, Gateshead’s Metrocentre, Cardiff’s St David’s, Manchester’s Trafford Centre and Lakeside in Thurrock, said footfall had been strong over the weekend as consumers bagged last minute bargains with stores putting on special offers to drum up trade. Department store chain John Lewis also helped lift the gloom by reporting record sales for the second week in a row.

Howard Archer, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, said the John Lewis figures were “decent” and would boost retailers’ hopes that a significant number of consumers have left much of their Christmas shopping late. But the Centre for Economics and Business Research warned that overall retail sales volumes in December were expected to be down 1.7 per cent compared to November and 0.3 per cent lower than a year ago.

Chief executive Douglas McWilliams said: “Retailers are in for an austerity Christmas.”

He said the cause of the misery was “a many headed monster”, with wages failing to keep pace with inflation, leaving people worse off in real terms, while consumer confidence was “shot to pieces” in the economic gloom.

Gift buyers wait for pay cheque

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It might be only days away but nearly half of us have yet to do our Christmas shopping.

Millions of cash-strapped Britons are said to be waiting for their final pay cheque of the year to nail bargains.

Research released from MoneySupermarket Shopping shows that more than a third of shoppers plan to finish their shopping by Friday, with well over one in 10 saying they will only have purchased their last present on Christmas Eve.

While 40 per cent blame a lack of time and a fifth blame laziness, one in 10 say they are waiting prices to drop, while 15 per cent say they are waiting for their last pay cheque of the year to be able to afford their shopping.