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Stowmarket: New mayor believes population growth will attract major retail brands to town

10:30 20 May 2014

Stowmarket Mayor Gerard Brewster

Stowmarket Mayor Gerard Brewster

A newly-elected mayor is “convinced” his town will see major retail brands investing if its population increases.

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Gerard Brewster, the Mayor of Stowmarket, said the market town’s population was close to reaching a “tipping-point” which would give an incentive to firms to establish new shops.

The population was recorded as 19,000 according to a Mid Suffolk District Council paper from 2012.

“The big brands will only come when we get a bigger up turn in the economy,” Mr Brewster said.

“It‘s more likely to happen when we get more growth in Stowmarket – when the population reaches a tipping point and the larger stores can see the potential of more footfall. We are very close to the tipping-point now – I am sure it will come, I am convinced.”

Around 1,500 homes are expected to be built in the town over the next 13 years. Sharon Brown, manager of Stowmarket Town Centre Partnership, said there were no vacant shops suitable for major firms.

“There may well be a tipping point but regardless, if we had 100,000 people living here, if there’s no where to put shops there’s no where for them to go,” she said.

“The danger is that big firms will want to come but because there is no where for them to go in the town centre they would go to out-of-town locations and decrease the footfall to the town centre.

“We need local authorities to facilitate building bigger shopping units within the town centre.” Last month Mid Suffolk said it was not “that optimistic” that major plans to redevelop the town centre would ever happen.

Dave Benham, the council’s corporate manager for economic development and tourism, said the project was achievable in 2008 but following Mid Suffolk losing its bid to compulsory purchase the existing buildings in the street in 2010 it was now unlikely to happen.

Jerry Coakley, professor in finance at the University of Essex’s business school, said a town’s demographic was more likely to be an indicator of the type of shops it would attract.

He said: “For general business I think the character of a town, its infrastructure, its cultural capital – theatres, cafes, restaurants, and its schools these days are far more important.

“I think population was more important in the era of mega sites but that has now past. Now supermarkets are concentrating on smaller sites.”

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