Minister for high streets and coastal communities takes tour of Lowestoft, Gorleston and Great Yarmouth
19:09 06 August 2014
Work hard, think outside the box and speak up for yourself - that was the message for both traders and seaside towns when a newly promoted minister paid a visit to Norfolk and Suffolk.
Struggling high streets should get creative and people on the coast need to tell government where cash is best spent according to Penny Mordaunt, MP for Portsmouth and the Department for Communities and Local Government’s new minister responsible for coastal communities, local growth, high streets, town centres, markets and enterprise zones.
Miss Mordaunt promoted the Coastal Communities Fund and the Great British High Street competition during a visit Lowestoft, Gorleston and Great Yarmouth today.
Taking the initiative was key for coastal communities, she said, when asked if storm-hit Hemsby where residents have banded together to campaign hard for sea defences would get more support.
Miss Mordaunt said: “It’s got to come from the local community. Whether it’s a high street or a coastal community, it’s not for the government to prescribe. We need the local communities to tell us what’s the biggest hurdle, what schemes could make the biggest difference.
“Part of the reason we’re getting extra funding for coastal communities is because we recognise the additional challenges they face. And part of the reason I am here now is to pin back my ears and listen.”
Members of Save Hemsby Coastline have already been vocal about their needs, repeatedly telling government that if they do not get funding for permanent defences their beach - and the estimated £80m it brings to Norfolk’s economy - will be lost forever.
The group recently had it’s bid for £2.3m from the Coastal Communities Fund, submitted before Miss Mordaunt was promoted, turned down.
Former coastal communities minister and Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis, who accompanied Miss Mordaunt on her visit, said the reason for that was because the group was bidding for money for defences schemes that did not yet have approval from either the landowner or the local authority.
There was similar advice for the regeneration of town centres and struggling high streets.
Miss Mordaunt, who met with Gorleston independent traders who are waiting to see what impact the planned Sainsbury’s supermarket on the out-of-town Beacon Park retail area will have and later toured Yarmouth where the town centre is still reeling from the news its lynchpin Marks & Spencer store was moving out of town, said: “My first impressions are that these community driven areas.
“There’s a real focus and a momentum to create vibrant and sustainable high streets that are creative and resilient.
“These people aren’t afraid of hard work. What I’m particularly impressed with is that people are coming up with solutions that work on a local level.
“The high street has to keep reinventing itself; it will face challenges today and it will face challenges in the future. But people still value them.”
The minister added that “slapping tax” on supermarkets was not the answer.
“These big businesses have a stake in the high street too and slapping taxes or obstacles in their way is not going to help” she said.
“It’s getting them involved on a local level that can make the difference, perhaps getting assistance for a local high school or getting them to sponsor a cultural organisation or charity that will bring more people into the town centre.”