The arrival of a new superstore on the edge of King’s Lynn has provided a much-needed jobs boost to the West Norfolk economy after a tough 2012.

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The economic outlook for west Norfolk

Trading conditions remain challenging, but the majority of businesses in West Norfolk are holding their own, the borough council has said.

At the beginning of the year unemployment in West Norfolk was at 3.6pc, but this had fallen to 3.2pc by October 2012 which is below the national figure of 3.8pc.

From a retail point of view, conditions remain difficult, although the percentage of vacant units remains well below the national average (8pc in King’s Lynn, 8pc in Downham Market and 4pc in Hunstanton compared to the national figure of 12pc).

Cllr Alistair Beales, cabinet member for regeneration said: “Supporting businesses through these tough economic times is crucial.

“We continue to work with the college to ensure that young people have the relevant skills that employers are looking for.

“We are also looking at all aspects of funding and other opportunities to encourage business growth in the area, which includes our Norfolk Enterprise programme, which we will be launching shortly.”

A key area that the borough council is currently working on is skills and training and already the council has given financial support to the College of West Anglia technology facility which trains apprentices and existing workers alike.

The council has also just launched its own apprenticeship programme and is currently seeking applicants for six apprenticeship positions and is funding a programme of advice, support and guidance for people considering starting their own business or thinking about becoming self-employed.

But there was also an upbeat message from Hunstanton and Downham Market as businesses in the market towns look ahead to 2013.

The opening of the Sainsbury’s store on the Hardwick Industrial Estate in November created 400 jobs and many more are expected to be created by new developments to the north of the supermarket

Hundreds more are also being safeguarded by the new 70,000 sq ft Sainsbury’s being built on part of the Pinguin frozen food factory site, which has meant that company could modernise its plant and remain in Lynn. Tesco is also re-developing the former Campbell’s food factory site, on the opposite side of Hardwick Road, where the famous soup tower stood until it was demolished in February.

It has got the go-ahead for a larger store, along with a farm shop, hotel, bars and car showroom, which it says will create more than 1,000 jobs.

In the heart of King’s Lynn, the Vancouver Quarter shopping centre has seen several stores shut this year. But centre manager Paul Clifford said: “Despite these closures, footfall has remained stable with people still shopping and attending events.

“Retailer performance is also encouraging and three new retailers are already lined up for early 2013 so we are optimistic for next year.”

Giving an overview of Hunstanton, Michael Ruston, secretary to the town’s chamber of trade, said: “Compared to a year ago there have been more shops opening than closing and we had two businesses move into two very prominent and long-term empty properties in Hunstanton.”

But he continued: “The weather had a marked impact in visitor numbers this summer which was shown in the fall in car parking revenue. It’s hard to tell what impact this will have on businesses and the town in 2013.”

The Hunstanton town team twice missed out on the national Portas pilot scheme but have been given a £10,000 grant towards initiatives in the town from the government.

Mr Ruston added: “The relationship between the town council, the chamber of trade and borough council has improved during this year on the back of the pilot scheme applications – long may it continue.”

Over in Downham Market there have been several shop closures in recent months.

But Margaret Key, president of the town’s chamber of trade, said: “Hopefully this is just a hiccup because Downham has a lot going for it. There is a great community here and the town has a great feel to it.

“There is massive house building going on in and around Downham so we need the shops here.”

She added: “One big thing going for Downham is the free parking and I hope we don’t have charges introduced.”

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