Town centres have got to change to increase footfall, says new Norfolk shopping centre manager

Abbie Panks is the manager at the Vancouver Quarter in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt

Abbie Panks is the manager at the Vancouver Quarter in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

Town centres have got to change if they want to continue to attract customers to shop there, the new manager of one of Norfolk's main outdoor shopping centres has said.

Abbie Panks said the main challenges in her new role at the King's Lynn Vancouver Quarter - which includes big name retailers such as Sainsbury's, Beales department store and TK Maxx - would be to fill the empty units in the centre, as well as help increase footfall.

The Vancouver Quarter is doing well on both fronts, with a 9.5pc retail vacancy compared to the national average which of 14pc, as well as an average increase in footfall of around 2.2pc in October, November and December 2013 compared to the previous year. Footfall has significantly increased on Tuesdays and Sundays in particular.

Yet despite the good news the Vancouver Quarter, like all shopping centres, faces testing times in 2014.

The steering group of a planned new Business Improvement District (BID) for King's Lynn - of which Miss Panks is a member - has warned shoppers could desert King's Lynn for neighbouring cities unless radical investment is made to improve and promote the town centre.

Many people find online shopping more convenient - but Miss Panks' answer is that: 'Town centres must change.

'People aren't just coming to town centres to shop. They are coming for leisure activities as well. It is about giving people a bit more of an experience.'

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She wants to provide more activities for shoppers and their families to enjoy so they can get more out of their visit to the Vancouver Quarter. These might include children's workshops and other entertainment - but Miss Panks insists the vast majority of these events will be free.

'People are here already to shop. They don't want to have to pay for other stuff,' she said.

With a marketing background, Miss Panks also believes the job is partly about advertising King's Lynn as a great place to shop. 'We've got a fantastic historical heritage in King's Lynn,' she said. 'We need to tell more people about it.'

What do you think town centres should do to try an increase footfall? Write, giving your full contact details, to: Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.