Weather: Arctic blast set to cost region �770m

ARCTIC conditions could cost the region more than �770million, it was revealed today, as the retail and leisure industries are hit hard by the freezing weather.

The cold snap has already cost the East of England around �343million according to figures from insurer RSA, as Christmas shoppers choose to stay at home instead of braving the cold weather.

And if the Arctic conditions continue this week - as forecasters are predicting - it is feared that the most crucial Christmas shopping period for retailers could be badly affected, costing a further �429million to the region’s fragile economy.

The impact is compounded by a number of other economic factors, including people not being able to get to work because of the treacherous conditions on the roads.

RSA director David Greaves said: “The cold snap we had in early December has already cost the East of England economy in the region of �343.2million, so the bad weather forecast for this week couldn’t come at a worse time for some businesses.

“The impact will be felt across the whole East of England economy.

“Small businesses in particular could be hardest hit by long-term poor weather conditions.

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“Despite showing initial resilience earlier this year, many smaller businesses may not be in a position to cope with a sustained loss of income caused by a new fall of snow.”

And the effects were being felt further afield. The heavy snow cost John Lewis nearly �5 million in lost sales as it disrupted the store’s biggest high street trading day of the year.

The amount of money the retailer took on Saturday was down by about 10% after Arctic weather conditions closed two of its 32 stores across the country and deterred countless shoppers from trekking to the shops.

The department store was on course to sell a record breaking �125 million of stock in the week to Saturday before the snowfall disrupted its plans.

Meanwhile Mike Sorhaindo, centre manager at Ipswich’s Tower Ramparts shopping centre, said: “This year has certainly looked a fair bit quieter than the same time last year purely because of the weather.

“Saturday was a very busy day despite the snow because the severe weather didn’t really hit us until the afternoon and evening.

“It has affected Sunday somewhat because although the roads are still just about passable, it’s really whether you can get out of your own driveway.

“It’s always a concern when you have hazardous road conditions and I’m sure some people will be deterred from taking a shopping trip.”

However retailers took some crumb of comfort from last minute shoppers worried about online packages not being delivered in time and rushing to the shops for possible replacements.

Outside the retail industry, numerous businesses across Suffolk and Essex have been badly affected by workers being unable to travel to their places of work because of the region’s icy roads.

In the last major snowfall in January, it is estimated that 44 per cent of workers in the region were unable to get to work at some point, and businesses - especially small companies with relatively few staff - have expressed fears that the same thing could happen once again.

But the situation is set to continue this week as temperatures remain around freezing point, raising the risk of black ice forming on roads and making them impassable.