Ipswich: Challenging Christmas for town centre shops as sales fall

Shoppers fill the Cornhill area of Ipswich town centre preparing for Christmas.

Shoppers fill the Cornhill area of Ipswich town centre preparing for Christmas. - Credit: Archant

MAJOR roadworks and the opening of new out-of-town shopping centres like John Lewis at home contributed to a fall in sales at shops in the heart of the town in the run up to Christmas.

The amount of money spent by retailers in the town centre fell by 2.9 per cent during November and December compared with the same period in 2011.

The figures were compiled by Ipswich Central, which runs the Business Improvement District (BID) in the heart of the town.

Chief executive Paul Clement said the perception that the town centre was difficult to reach because of the major roadworks had harmed sales in November.

That was also the month that the new Waitrose/John Lewis at home store opened on the edge of Ipswich – which, he said, would inevitably have attracted some shoppers who would otherwise have spent money in the town.

He warned that local authorities needed to have more regard to the viability of the town centre when they looked at the impact on possible developments.

Mr Clement said: “Trade on the high street continues to be really tough but, overall, Ipswich fared satisfactorily.

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“The recent news about Jessops and HMV shows how major names struggled up and down the country.

“This last Christmas, out of town openings and some negative perceptions caused by roadworks, added to this climate in Ipswich which was unfortunate.

“If places like Ipswich want their high streets to recover there are some dramatic changes which need to take place.

“First and foremost, everyone concerned has to adopt a ‘town centre first’ policy to ensure that businesses are retained in the town centre and that new names are attracted there.

“Everything possible must be done to prioritise the needs of every town centre, above and beyond all other initiatives. Town centres are the very characters of places and successful centres attract untold wider investment.”

The figures for Ipswich do not look good in comparison with the rest of the county.

Nationally retailers reported an increase in spending of just over 1.6pc for the last two months of 2012 in a survey run by the British Retail Consortium – but this included online sales which rose 17.8pc.

If those figures are stripped out, there was a fall of 0.3pc in spending during December.

Richard Dodd from the BRC said town centres needed to adapt to meet the challenges from online stores.

“The retail landscape is changing – about 10pc of purchases are now made online and that is set to increase.

“But the increase in the number of people using tablets and smartphones mean they are checking prices between stores and websites while out shopping – and there is also the rise of click and collect.

“Increasingly the differences between instore and online shopping are becoming blurred – but it is necessary for town centres to look at other business opportunities, not just retail.”

Is enough done to encourage shoppers to use the town centre? How would you boost Ipswich retailers? Write to Your Letters, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail starletters@archant.co.uk