Call to bring our shopping high streets back to life

More needs to be done to breathe fresh life into Norfolk's high streets – that's the overwhelming result of a new survey revealing that ever more shoppers are turning to supermarkets and out-of-town destinations to buy their food and goods.

EDP reporters took to the high streets of 10 market towns as well as Norwich city centre to discover how they were faring in the current tight economic situation.

And while many shops are thriving, shoppers and shopkeepers agreed that action needs to be taken to keep them alive.

Shoppers called for:

More free parking

More variety

Cleaner town centres

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Shopkeepers called for:

Lower business rates

Cheaper rents

Free parking

Findings show that 90pc of people in Norfolk and north Suffolk go to the supermarket for their food and goods but two thirds of people are proud of their town and city centre and would shop locally if enough was provided in the high street.

Meanwhile shopkeepers are struggling with rising costs, the VAT increase – from 17.5pc to 20pc at the beginning of this year – and the fact that people are not spending as much as they used to.

Out of 105 shopkeepers surveyed, 90pc said the government did not do enough to support small independent shops.

Nationally a new report has suggested that a quarter of high streets in the UK are failing as a gap grows between the best and worst town centres. Empty shops have triggered a downward spiral on high streets in 83 out of 365 towns, according to property consultants Colliers International.

The government has enlisted the help of TV's 'Queen of Shops' Mary Portas to revive Britain's high streets. But while 40pc of Norfolk and north Suffolk shops are feeling the pinch, more than two thirds would still recommend opening a small store to someone else and there are very few empty shops in the counties' market towns.

Anthony Warren, co-owner of The Gold Shop in St Nicholas Street, Diss, said: 'I always say 'do something for yourself' and it's always worth giving something a go but the main problem is the rates.

'A lot of shops are not owned by local people but by London firms who do not come to Diss.

'People who can afford the rent and rates are the chains and the big companies. If measures came in to help independent businesses you will see the town starting to look like it used to be. I know people who come to Diss who don't live here any more and are shocked to see the way it looks today.'

Bob White, from the Showcase Gallery in North Walsham, said: 'Town and district councils should do more. In particular there should be action on the appearance of empty shops. Owners of empty shops should be liable to pay rates pro rata.'

The EDP survey marks the start of a five-day series, looking at the main issues shopkeepers are facing, whether or not our town centres are becoming 'clone towns' and what can be done to help shoppers and shopkeepers.

The research was carried out in Beccles, Diss, Dereham, Downham Market, Fakenham, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, North Walsham, Norwich, Stalham and Watton.

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