Attractions including Tunnel of Light brought 2 million visitors into Norwich during Christmas period

Tunnel of Light on Hayhill, Norwich.

Tunnel of Light on Hayhill, Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Attractions such as the Tunnel of Light helped propel footfall in Norwich over the festive period to around 2 million people, according to Norwich BID.

The strong visitor numbers during December came in at 200,000 more than the same period in 2015, helping to give city centre businesses a Christmas boost.

Both John Lewis and Jarrold reported strong sales figures in December, helped along by measures taken to attract people into the city.

Richard Marks, head of branch at John Lewis Norwich, said the store had a 'very positive Christmas period with good growth in sales and footfall.'

'I think we outperformed other parts of the country, and I would absolutely concur that everything the city did to draw people in, we benefited from more people coming into Norwich this year,' he said.

'The suspension in roadworks helped although there were moments where there was congestion as everyone was getting used to the road layouts, on the whole we kept things moving through Christmas. 'Obviously the BID goes for re-selection this year as it comes to the end of its five year term. If the BID is in place next year there is an opportunity to build on it in future years. 'From the BID perspective they put something on that attracted people to Norwich. That is a success for the city and I am sure they will want to look to maintain that.'

Jarrold reported a strong Christmas period with sales in the flagship department store and in The Granary and Pilch branches ahead of targets.

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Michelle Jarrold, Development Director, said: 'Christmas traditions seemed more important than ever to our customers, as we saw the biggest number of visits to Father Christmas' grotto in a generation, and traditional toys like board games had a strong revival. Food and drink also continues to get bigger and bigger, with our Deli and Food Gifts sales doubling in the last three years.

'We have been delighted by the response we have had from our customers to all the changes, all the investment and all the new brands. Retailers are realising that the future for the high streets lies in creating great experiences for customers in flagship stores. We are excited about being at the front edge of that development.

'It wasn't just the changes in the store which impacted our performance though as Norwich looked spectacular over Christmas, with the beautiful Christmas lights, this year supplemented with the Tunnel of Light and the Projections. All the indications are that these helped attract more people to the city and they added to Norwich's Christmas sparkle.'

Nationally retail figures for December have been described as 'terrible' after falling almost 2pc from November.

The Office for National Statistics said the month-on-month retail sales fell 1.9pc in December, compared to a 0.1% fall in November. Economists had been forecasting a drop of just 0.1pc.

That is the biggest monthly decline since April 2012, when sales also dropped by 1.9pc.

On an annual basis, the overall rate of retail sales growth was 4.3pc, but that still marked a slowdown from 5.7pc in November.

Mixed fortunes for Norfolk shopping centres

Jonathan Newman, town centre manager at Great Yarmouth Town Centre Partnership said: 'The Great Yarmouth town centre footfall in December was actually 8pc down on Christmas 2015, the main contributor to this decline was the absence of the ice rink that drove footfall into the town centre the previous year. Despite this, retailers have reported sales on a par or slightly ahead of 2015, particularly the department stores that presented a wider gift offer to consumers.

'The town centre Business Improvement District supported town centre retailers with a significant advertising campaign and a series of events including the Great Yarmouth Christmas Fayre, the Christmas Lights Switch-on, a firework display, a lantern parade, a treasure trail and the new Santa's Post Office attraction which was visited by over 550 families and forwarded over 800 letters to Father Christmas written by visiting children, all of whom received a reply from Santa.'

Lowestoft BID manager Darren Newman said: 'In Lowestoft we enjoyed a positive third quarter of the year with Footfall to Lowestoft town centre up 1% against the same period in 2015.

'During this period a number of stores invested in their Lowestoft Stores with complete refits as well as Kerry's department store officially opening in the old Godfreys Premises.

'Over the festive period a number of stores report and increase in trade, for events such as the annual Christmas Lights switch on we welcomed record crowds into the town centre.'

Abbie Panks, centre manager at the Vancouver Quarter, which monitors the footfall figures in King's Lynn, said footfall in the shopping centre last month was up 3.1 per cent on December 2015.

'Overall in 2016, we saw an increase in footfall of just over six per cent which equated to an extra 450,000 visitors in the centre. One of the things that undoubtedly helped attract more visitors was a strong programme of events and activities in the town,' she said. 'Shopping centres and town centres have long since moved away from being strictly retail and it's important to provide added value for people visiting the town.

'As for events held to get people in the town, our biggest events were Halloween, Fairytales and Legends, Christmas Lights Switch On and our Christmas grotto all of which saw significant increases on 2015. We also held a wide range of events throughout the year including free photoshoots, Covent Garden street entertainers, Chinese New Year celebrations, Saturday club workshops as well as activities specific for businesses.

'We were also glad to work alongside others In the town on events such as Festival Too, Hanse Day, Water-Ski Racing, Heritage Open Day and Mods and Rockers – all of which, as with all our events, are free to attend. With this in mind, we look forward to continuing to work in conjunction with the borough council and other groups on another great programme of events throughout 2017.'