Deputy council leader is ‘absolutely convinced’ market town will thrive
- Credit: Archant
Bury St Edmunds town centre has a bright future, the deputy leader of the council has said, amid concerns it is in decline.
Councillor Sara Mildmay-White, of West Suffolk Council, said she is "absolutely convinced" people would still come to the historic market town despite car parking charges rising and an increased number of empty shop units.
READ MORE: What has the reaction been to car parking charges going up in Bury St Edmunds?The local authority is facing backlash for hiking charges for town centre car parks at a time when footfall is also at its lowest in recent years - it was 7% higher in 2016 than it was in 2019 - and people have expressed concerns Bury may become a "ghost town".
READ MORE: Expect to pay more for parking in Bury St Edmunds - but it's still free from 3pm on TuesdaysBut the council has pointed out nearly all 4,000 town centre parking spaces are full come Saturday lunchtimes, adding "it is not just the price of parking that attracts people to a town centre", and said the rises in tariffs were "modest".
Mrs Mildmay-White, cabinet member for housing, said she was "not despairing" but "quite confident" over the future of the centre, but added we do need to accept times are changing.
READ MORE: Cineworld plans major cinema revamp and more screens in market townNews of Cineworld's planned major investment at its Parkway cinema was also a vote of confidence, she said.
"I'm absolutely convinced Bury St Edmunds is a brilliant town and there is so much on offer and people will continue to come. If you go into the bars and cafes they are all full.
"I'm not despairing, I'm quite confident, but we do need to have a real talk about how things are changing and how people, particularly the younger generations, are going to be using their town centres and what they want from it. If people are using internet shopping what do they want from their local town?"
She revealed at West Suffolk Council's cabinet meeting last week the council is planning to hold a 'town centre summit' in the spring to discuss the issues around the high street and come up with solutions.
But Mark Cordell, chief executive of the Our Bury St Edmunds business improvement district, said he is sceptical over whether the event would be a real attempt to consider all of the issues affecting their town centres and then take positive actions.
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He said: "Personally I have my doubts and am concerned that it's more a cosmetic exercise."
In St John's Street - an independent shopping area - an idea has ben mooted to ban traffic on Saturdays, which has been met with mixed reaction from businesses there.
READ MORE: So what do businesses think? Mixed views on proposal to shut shopping street to trafficWhile some feel it would improve the shopping experience and could boost trade, others think it would have a "detrimental" impact as their customers need easy access by car.
READ MORE: Which is the latest business to close in this historic market town?Vanilla hairdressers is one of the latest businesses to shut in the town, which has a shop vacancy rate of 7.9% according to latest figures compared to a national average of 10%.
But Mrs Mildmay-White said new businesses are opening up, such as a new bar at the former Intersport shop in Whiting Street.