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Is Lowestoft dead? I say it still has some fight left

Lowestoft's South Beach is one of the town's many attractive spots. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Lowestoft's South Beach is one of the town's many attractive spots. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

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"Let's face it, this town is dead" was one Lowestoft resident's reaction to the shock news that Tesco will be closing its Metro store in the town centre in September.

The upcoming closure of the Tesco Metro in London Road North is a blow for Lowestoft. Picture: GRETA LEVYThe upcoming closure of the Tesco Metro in London Road North is a blow for Lowestoft. Picture: GRETA LEVY

Make no mistake about it, whether you like it or not the news from the supermarket giant last week was a terrible blow.

I have lived in Lowestoft for five years, which included two and a half as editor of the Lowestoft Journal. In that time, I have grown increasingly fond of the Suffolk town I am proud to call home.

Yet even the town's strongest supporters cannot say this closure - the latest in a long line of stores shutting up shop - is anything but bad for the town, however undeserved and unfair it all seems.

It is certainly not all Lowestoft's fault. Tesco, like any other large or small firm, faces huge challenges. In my view its decision should be seen as a reflection of the difficulties businesses have nationally, rather than a lack of confidence in the town.

The Argos store in Lowestoft town centre before it closed a few years ago. It is one of several empty units left in the area. Picture: NICK BUTCHERThe Argos store in Lowestoft town centre before it closed a few years ago. It is one of several empty units left in the area. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

It is also true to say that one single shop closure should not get people down. The sad reality is that shops come and go, and one closure often opens another opportunity for a different trader.

This closure however feels different, coming as it does after a series of big name closures in recent years and being one of town's biggest units.

In just the space of a few years, Lowestoft's most prominent retail spaces - the old post office, Argos, Beales, Godfreys/Kerry's and now Tesco have gone. And seeing how most of those are still empty, one could be forgiven for wondering who will replace Tesco.

It also leaves the north of the town centre feeling emptier than it ever has done. However while I can sympathise with the comment that "this town is dead", I still feel - despite everything - that there is fight in Lowestoft yet.

Despite its challenges, Lowestoft town centre is frequently busy with shoppers. Picture: NICK BUTCHERDespite its challenges, Lowestoft town centre is frequently busy with shoppers. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

While it might be difficult to see right at this moment, the town centre is still strong. There is a good mixture of shops, with a strong range of places to eat and drink.

Even on a weekday, crowds of people can be seen in the town centre. That wouldn't be the case if Lowestoft had nothing to offer.

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Crucially, the advantage Lowestoft has over many others is a group of dedicated people determined to build on its strengths and bring about positive change.

Earlier this year, Lowestoft held it's the 24-hour First Light Festival which brought hundreds of people to the South Beach for an eclectic celebration of music and the arts.

That event was a roaring success and down to the hard work of a great many people who wanted to showcase all that is great about this coastal community.

With people like that on our side, Lowestoft has the very best chance of turning any setbacks it faces into successes.

You might say that the First Light Festival has nothing to do with the town centre. But that is precisely my point.

While the town centre is naturally the focal point, to get a true idea of Lowestoft's strengths you have to look beyond that to its many other assets - the stunning coastline, beautiful open spaces such as Nicholas Everitt Park and Normanston Park, the great tourism attractions like Africa Alive! and the wonderful job opportunities, such as at Hoseasons and in offshore wind.

And as Tesco announces its closure, it is worth remembering that the Gateway Retail Park at Pakefield is just opening with stores such as Aldi, Subway and The Range. Perhaps there is an argument to say that the way people shop is changing, rather than the town centre getting it wrong.

Traffic is still a major issue, and I know many people who prefer to shop in Beccles because it is easier than getting to Lowestoft - even when it is further away.

That undoubtedly must have an effect on the town centre. Its lack of accessibility by car may have contributed to many of the shop closures we have seen.

It is four years since then-prime minister David Cameron promised Lowestoft a long-awaited third crossing within five years. While plans have been drawn up, we must put pressure on the new government to get diggers on the ground, starting the work we need for the town to thrive.

There is no question that Lowestoft faces a great many challenges. But when I left as editor of Lowestoft Journal, I wrote a column which said that the town's spirit meant its sun was only just rising.

There might now be some clouds gathering as the sun rises over Ness Point. But with the amazing commitment and love for the town its residents continue show and the great many natural advantages Lowestoft has, I remain confident rays of sunshine will break through.

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