'Monumental task' ahead for Suffolk high streets in 2021

Crowds of Christmas shoppers on Westgate Street, Ipswich

Despite the rush of Christmas shoppers in Ipswich, data from the Centre for Cities indicates footfall had not recovered to its pre-pandemic levels. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Suffolk town leaders say rebuilding trade in the new year is a "monumental task" after a "devastating" 2020.

Paul Clement, chief executive of Ipswich Central, said: "2020 has been the most difficult year that I can ever remember for Ipswich town centre businesses.

"The effect of Covid has been nothing short of devastating."

Paul Clement, chief executive of Ipswich Central

Paul Clement, chief executive of Ipswich Central - Credit: Archant

Data from the Centre for Cities shows that during the summer, footfall in Ipswich town centre recovered to a pre-pandemic average following the first lockdown. However according to the most recent data, after the November lockdown it only reached three-quarters of its normal level.

Mr Clement said: "Like every other high street in the land, we have seen lower footfall and spend, together with periods of business closure and interruption.

"I am very nervous about prospects for the first three-months of 2021 and we won’t know the underlying damage to our economy until the virus recedes and government assistance measures, such as the furlough scheme, are lifted. 

"Ipswich Central recognises that there is a huge effort required to rebuild our town centre economy, to win customers and staff back, to support those businesses that do come through, and to identify new uses for buildings that are left vacant.

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"It will be a monumental task that will necessitate creative thinking, bravery and determination. But the business community is looking for our entire focus in 2021 to be on this rebuilding and repurposing process and we are determined that we will not let them down.”

Mark Cordell, chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds, said that the situation in Bury looked more positive.

Bury BID chief executive Mark Cordell in the Arc shopping centre Picture: OUR BURY ST EDMUNDS

Bury BID chief executive Mark Cordell in the Arc shopping centre Picture: OUR BURY ST EDMUNDS - Credit: Archant

But, he said: "There is no doubt that the short term future looks very unsettled, with a number of our pubs already considering not re-opening in the New Year due to the uncertainty.

"We need the Government to get the virus under control and until they do this uncertainty will remain.

"I want to see the Government considerably increase the vaccine provision so the majority of the population have been able to have it by Easter. This will be very challenging and expensive but so will further redundancies, furloughed staff and reduced taxation income streams.

"I always try to be positive and want to look to the spring as being a time when our lives can start to return to normality.