“A massive opportunity for Lowestoft”; shopkeepers and traders urged to support ambitious town plans

Retailers and business owners in Lowestoft were this week invited to play their part in 'a very exciting future for our town' as amibitous plans were unveiled to attract thousands of new visitors and shoppers.

As the new campaign for a Business Improvement District (BID) in Lowestoft was officially launched this week, shopkeepers and traders were urged to take advantage of a 'massive opportunity' for the town.

The Lowestoft Vision BID will seek to raise funds to enhance and promote key shopping areas by improving their appearance and cleanliness, adding new facilities and making them more attractive.

But the initiative will depend on the backing of local businesses, which will be asked to support the BID by paying an 'agreed levy'. The income from this will fund any projects or improvements agreed.

The BID is being supported by Waveney District Council, Suffolk County Council, the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, Lowestoft Town Management Partnership (LTMP) – the retail arm of the Lowestoft and Waveney Chamber of Commerce – and the Association of Town Centre Management groups (ACTM).

It is being drawn up alongside similar BID projects in Norwich and Cambridge.

Two Lowestoft BID focus group meetings were held on Tuesday at the Riverside Business Centre, where managers from national retailers, owners of independent stores and representatives from businesses in Lowestoft High Street and Kirkley were all involved in what were described as 'very productive' and 'positive' discussions.

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Emma King, of LTMP, who is the Lowestoft Vision BID's development manager, urged businesses to get actively involved to help the town 'become the coastal destination' for the eastern region.

Having spent a year planning the BID proposals, she said: 'The businesses of Lowestoft now have the opportunity to be part of a very exciting future for our town and it will be the businesses that control its destiny.'

The Lowestoft Vision BID would focus upon a designated area of the town, where business rate-payers would pay a levy to fund improvements. For now, the initiative will be developed by a steering group of 12-15 people who will collate the issues, ideas and requests of the businesses involved prior to a ballot in the autumn or early next year.

If it wins support, a BID board, made up of local businesses representatives, will then be responsible for the funds.

Street meetings will also be held to ensure members of the public are involved.

Mrs King said: 'The main five areas we've discussed so far are car parking, a market day, street cleansing, marketing, PR and events, and safety and security. I can't stress how big an opportunity this is for Lowestoft to be working with the ATCM and Norwich and Cambridge to develop our BID alongside theirs. This is bringing Lowestoft up to date and in line with towns and cities nationwide – it is all about taking ownership of the town.'

There are now more than 130 BIDs in the UK, with thousands of businesses actively involved. It is estimated that the national BIDS will bring in nearly �250m of new funding to improve town and city centres over the next five years. Great Yarmouth was the first successful BID area in East Anglia.

Tuesday's meetings in Lowestoft included discussions about the hopes for Lowestoft and Kirkley and what businesses would like to see. The issued raised included cleanliness – removing gum and seagull mess from the streets – better marketing, staging more events, holding a regular town centre market to 'create atmosphere,' street wardens, rangers and parking – with proposals for free parking after 4pm or all day on Saturdays.

Mrs King said the initiative was is in line with the report compiled for the government on the future of the UK's high streets by retail guru Mary Portas, and the initial response had been 'immensely encouraging'.

'The meetings were extremely positive, showing the passion people hold for our town and how they want to work together,' Mrs King said. 'It was very exciting to take this massive opportunity to everyone. I now look forward to holding more meetings so eventually every business in the BID area will have the opportunity to come along.

Dan Poitras, manager of the Britten Centre, opened Tuesday's meeting and told those present that in July and August last year, a survey was carried out as part of the Lowestoft town centre improvements.

About 700 businesses were contacted and 218 responses received, which mainly focused on the provision of car parking, toilets, safety and marketing. He added: 'The intention was to engage with businesses to start understanding issues that can be explored through further consultation and addressed by a BID. '

Speaking afterwards, Danny Steel, chairman of the Lowestoft High Street Traders' Association, said: 'The meeting was very, very good. We need to have a collective vision of how we see Lowestoft going forward – and from a business perspective we'd want this to be the High Street, central Lowestoft and Kirkley.'

The views of local people are also being sought for the BID. Contact Mrs King at emma@lowestoftvision.co.uk

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