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Norfolk Business Awards 2018

High Street has optimistic future despite national job losses

PUBLISHED: 07:00 03 July 2018

Lowestoft High Street.
Picture: Nick Butcher

Lowestoft High Street. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2018

Walking up the High Street in Lowestoft paints a mixed picture of the health of the town centre’s economy.

Lowestoft High Street.
Picture: Nick ButcherLowestoft High Street. Picture: Nick Butcher

From London Road North, passing underneath the archway opposite the police station and turning towards the Triangle Market, the history of the High Street begins to show itself.

Despite the doomsday predictions and the demise of brands such as Mothercare, Toys R Us, and British Home Stores, Lowestoft’s independent shops and businesses are surviving in tough conditions.

According to the BBC, more than 7,000 jobs have been lost through administrations and shop closures, with 9,500 more to come with planned shop closures, and 5,100 in doubt at Poundworld.

In Lowestoft there is the odd closed shop, such as Eastern Foods, and a couple of boarded-up, long abandoned buildings like the magnificent Crown Hotel.

Lowestoft High Street.
Picture: Nick ButcherLowestoft High Street. Picture: Nick Butcher

However, this is a common sight in almost every high street across the UK, and is certainly not only a Lowestoft problem.

And as deputy mayor Peter Knight, who owns High Street Haberdashery with his wife, Marina, says, when a business closes it is no longer a foregone conclusion that it will stay shut forever.

He said: “The big chains are suffering nationally, but the small businesses are doing very well. Businesses close here, but it only takes a few months for them to open again as something else.”

Mr Knight picked out new shops such as UK Engravers, a new beauty shop, and Cake Corner at The Globe as examples of new shops which have opened on the high street.

Lowestoft High Street.
Picture: Nick ButcherLowestoft High Street. Picture: Nick Butcher

He added: “I am encouraged by the number of people who are discovering us and coming up to the High Street for the first time and finding out about the shops.

“Some people don’t come up here for maybe one or even two years and then all of a sudden they come back and find all of these new shops have appeared. It is only small businesses but the area is pretty much thriving.”

Others disagree. Duncan Adams, who owns Dunx Cycles on the High Street, said: “The High Street is knackered. It is dying. You have got all these trading estates with free parking and why would anyone pay for parking and come to a quiet part of town where half the shops are shut?

“A lot of these properties are nice and cheap so they don’t attract the business that is needed or they are converted into flats.

Lowestoft High Street.
Picture: Nick ButcherLowestoft High Street. Picture: Nick Butcher

“The restaurants side of things is great. If you want a nice meal in Lowestoft you come to the old High Street which is nice.

“However, the pubs are either dead and buried or in such a state of disrepair you wouldn’t want to go.

“I really can’t see anything saving it to be fair.”

Danny Steel, chairman of business improvement district Lowestoft Vision, which helps develop and support businesses in Lowestoft, said: “The historic High Street has had its challenges the last few years, that is obvious, but there is a lot more to the High Street than many will admit.

Lowestoft High Street.
Picture: Nick ButcherLowestoft High Street. Picture: Nick Butcher

“Those of us that live or work on the High Street every day know all about the 100 plus specialist shops, restaurants, bars and services that are open for business in the High Street area.

He added: “The Lowestoft Town Council is working to return a regular market to the Market Triangle, that would be a great boost to the High Street fortunes.”

Alongside the work of Lowestoft Vision, £1m of funding is being pumped into the area as part of the Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) to revive the street and repair its historic character.

Mr Steel added: “The granting of HAZ status to the historic High Street recognises the historic and cultural importance of the area.

Lowestoft High Street.
Picture: Nick ButcherLowestoft High Street. Picture: Nick Butcher

“There are only two HAZs in East Anglia; Kings Lynn and Lowestoft High Street. The HAZ working group has started working with property owners and conservation experts to formulate the plans to improve the area.”

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