Two more North Walsham shops shut as traders call on new supermarket to fund free town-centre parking

PUBLISHED: 07:00 02 May 2013

Stuart Bird, owner of Barge Farm Produce greengrocer's shop in North Walsham, is closing his business.

Stuart Bird, owner of Barge Farm Produce greengrocer's shop in North Walsham, is closing his business. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

The closure of two more independent shops in North Walsham has sent town-centre traders scurrying to man the barricades.

Barge Farm greengrocer’s shop, at the top of Market Place, ceased trading at the weekend, and followed the closure last month of The Fishmonger, on Market Street.

Both traders blame a lack of shoppers in the town and fierce competition from supermarkets.

Now the North Walsham Chamber for Business has drawn up a list of demands to help the struggling town, topped by a call for free parking. Fishmonger Justin Lee decided to close after five years saying the recession had hit trade badly and shoppers were choosing to park for free at Waitrose to buy two salmon fillets for £5 rather than have to pay to park in North Walsham and spend £9 buying the same from him.

“I just can’t compete and make a profit. Supermarkets are crucifying the high street. North Walsham will be a ghost town,” said Mr Lee, 39.

Stuart Bird, 45, decided to close his greengrocers after five months. He said: “There are not enough customers. They are at the supermarkets. People said they wanted a greengrocer’s after the last one closed but obviously not enough to allow me to keep my head above water.”

He decided to close before his first year’s rent doubles to £14,000 in November.

The latest blows coincide with the removal of the last major planning barrier which stood in the way of Scott Properties gaining permission for a 39,000 sq ft supermarket, plus petrol station, on the town’s Cromer Road.

Paston Sixth Form College’s decision not to proceed with a store proposal on its Lawns site meant that the Scott Properties application became the nearest to the town centre, passing North Norfolk District Council’s (NNDC) “sequential test”.

The application will now get final approval - if NNDC can negotiate a satisfactory package of “mitigating measures” with Scott Properties, aimed at softening another out-of-town supermarket’s impact on North Walsham’s trading heartland.

The chamber has sent its £1m-plus list to NNDC to form part of the negotiations. Vice chairman Nicholas Lee said he feared a domino effect. If more struggling shops closed, customers would stop coming to the town, jeopardising healthy businesses and North Walsham could become a “service town”, filled only with banks, estate agents, and take-aways.

The chamber believed free parking was essential and wanted Scott Properties to pay for the Bank Loke and Vicarage Street car parks to be free for two hours, guaranteed for at least 20 years. Other measures would see better pedestrian access, including the reinstatement of the pedestrian tunnel under the railway at North Walsham station, money for pop-up shops, a handful of permanent market stalls and an attractive access to the St Nicholas Court precinct.

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