How many empty shops are in your Suffolk town?
- Credit: Archant
A pledge to regenerate high streets in some of Suffolk’s market towns is being promised by council leaders as latest figures show as many as one in ten shops lay empty.
Culture and leisure attractions could breathe new life into high streets in a bid to offer more than just shopping to visitors.
The pledge comes from council leaders at East Suffolk Council where latest figures show that about one in five shops in Bungay and Lowestoft are empty.
But towns in west Suffolk have been bucking the national trend with much healthier rates of shops occupied.
Data published ahead of East Suffolk Council's strategic planning committee next week revealed that Lowestoft had a 21.4% vacancy rate - one in five - while Bungay had 17%.
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Other key towns such as Halesworth, Southwold, Felixstowe, Framlingham, Saxmundham, Leiston and Woodbridge had rates between 7% and 11%, largely in line with the national 10% vacancy rate.
Ipswich had one in 10 shops empty, according to figures from the council's scrutiny committee published in October, while Stowmarket had 4.3% and Sudbury had 8.4%.
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Craig Rivett, East Suffolk Council's cabinet member for economic development, said events for a Lowestoft masterplan and regeneration projects were helping address the problems there, while the People and Places project in Bungay had found areas for improvement over the last three months.
"We are not going to out-compete the internet," Mr Rivett said.
"It's about what the high street should look like and what residents and businesses want the high street to look like.
"For example, some of the initial feedback from the masterplan was saying it needs to be more than shopping.
"We know that if you can buy online then some people will prefer to do that, so if we do more than shopping such as culture and leisure we can bring a new high street to the likes of Lowestoft and to Bungay."
Other areas in the district such as Aldeburgh (3.3%) and Beccles (5.5%) were faring better when it came to shop vacancies.
In West Suffolk,the five key towns of Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket, Mildenhall, Haverhill and Brandon all had vacancy rates between 5% and 9%, which is considered to be healthy by the Association of Town and City Management.
A West Suffolk Council spokesman said: "We work with partners to ensure the continuing success of our high streets as a place where people go to shop, to eat and drink, to enjoy leisure and cultural activities and take part in social events. "We have also identified and invested in a number of key sites and are leading on shaping the future growth of our towns as a place to live, work and enjoy free time.
"That is one of the reasons that despite the challenges facing retailers up and down the country, our high streets continue to attract entrepreneurs who are willing to put their faith in West Suffolk as a place to start their new business venture."
Andy Walker, head of policy & research at Suffolk Chamber, said: "Everyone knows that the high street retail sector is going through challenging times. As the experience of Lowestoft Vision, the BID managed by Suffolk Chamber, shows close working between businesses and local councils can have a positive impact on footfall, especially at key times in the calendar.
"More fundamentally, though, Suffolk Chamber and our national organisation, the British Chambers of Commerce will be pressing the new Government for a complete review of business rates in order to support our highstreets and retail sector. Doing so would be a positive step to assisting our retail businesses and preventing further shop closures. Not only would a review of business rates attract visitors and further investment in to our highstreets but it would help balance the online."