Downham Market to benefit from Town Team following Mary Portas report into high streets

Traders could join forces to market Downham and encourage shoppers

Traders in Downham Market may create a town team in a bid to promote the town and encourage more people to shop there.

Around 25 independent and chain retailers met in the town hall on Thursday night as part of the Let's Talk Shop initiative prompted by the Mary Portas report into the state of UK high streets.

The event, initiated by West Norfolk Council, was designed to: 'explore things together, to understand things together and to make sure the council isn't doing something really stupid that would be very easy to put right,' said council leader Nick Daubney.

'It's been clear for some time that retail in particular has been going through a lot of pressures and change recently.

'In many ways West Norfolk has been performing very well but if someone rings me up who is hurting then it's not going to help to say that we are doing well.' he added.

Chairman of Downham Chamber of Trade, Philip Plant, who led the meeting, said Downham's vacancy rate for retail premises was below the national average, but added that steps could be taken to help market the town and drive people to the high street.

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'Consumer spending is down and a third of high streets are declining and less than 40pc of retail will be in the high street by 2014,' he said.

'A lot of things Mary Portas has recommended are already happening; she talks about a lot of independent retailers, which Downham has already got,' he added.

The 'things that are quite precious' to Downham need to be discussed now so traders don't look back in two years' time and wonder what happened to them, said Mr Plant.

The government's response to the Portas report is due to be released in the next few weeks and town centre manager for King's Lynn, Hunstanton and Downham, Alistair Cox said while it had included some positive ideas, it had lacked suggested methods to achieve a good result.

Some of the Portas suggestions, particularly around rate relief, would need changes in legislation, he said.

The creation of a town team to drive ideas and apply for financial support was highlighted in the Portas report and Downham could benefit by suggestions including a joint marketing campaign to attract shoppers into the town centre.

Maureen Hibling, who runs Sew Inn, told the meeting that absentee landlords leaving retail premises empty had been a problem in the town.

Another issue was the change of use planning applications which have seen a number of premises become services rather than retail.

'If they keep changing then we get more services in the high street and less retail,' said Kim Draycott, of Teeny Tots.

Car parking was also an issue with many traders saying there was not enough for shoppers but there was agreement that charging motorists would not help the town flourish.

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