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How to help the high street and its scourge of empty shops

PUBLISHED: 14:54 20 November 2018 | UPDATED: 14:54 20 November 2018

Marks and Spencer in King Street, Great Yarmouth, has been empty for nearly four years Picture: Liz Coates

Marks and Spencer in King Street, Great Yarmouth, has been empty for nearly four years Picture: Liz Coates

Archant

Walk around Great Yarmouth and it’s not hard to find empty shops crying out for new life.

Marks and Spencer.
Front of shop on the Market Place in Great Yarmouth town centre.
July 2014.

Picture: James Bass

Marks and Spencer. Front of shop on the Market Place in Great Yarmouth town centre. July 2014. Picture: James Bass

The most obvious absence is at the former Marks and Spencer store, where once bright windows have given way to a boarded up bleakness, a source of frustration for almost four years.

Now the resort’s town centre manager has told a group of MPs that landlords and owners of hard-to-let shops need to think more creatively about who their tenants could be - and face penalties if their properties are empty for too long.

Jonathan Newman, has been sharing his ideas with a top level committee looking into what central government can do to help struggling retail hubs.

Mr Newman was called to Westminster to give his views on the state of the high street.

He said there needed to be more incentives for potential occupiers to take up empty shops for retail, office, or leisure use to rejuvenate their communities.

But his carrot approach also came with a stick - that there should be penalties if shops were left empty for too long forcing landlords to be more flexible.

He said: “Some national retail websites are reporting that 80,000 jobs have been lost from retail in the last year.

“There are more shops closing than opening nationally.

“The housing, communities and local government committee are going through an inquiry into town centres and high streets and have been interviewing stakeholders in town centres and high streets nationally asking them questions about what the situation is, how they see their own organisations working to improve the situation and what support is needed from government to help high streets and town centres to be healthy, flourishing places by 2030.”

Mr Newman said there needed to be a policy that treated town centre vacant commercial space differently to other commercial space.

He added: “Are landlords just waiting for another retailer or should they be being creative and considering other uses? Are they doing everything they can to do something positive?

“It is not just the empty shop it is the impact on other shops in terms of light and general ambience.”

Yarmouth was still in the same position it was about a year ago, Mr Newman said, but there had been some successes with Poundstretcher, Taco Bell and Bad Rhino moving in.

However, one of the most visible - Marks and Spencer in King Street - was still empty after almost four years casting a shadow over the main retail hub.

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