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As more shops close, what can be done to save a High Street?

PUBLISHED: 11:55 13 December 2018

Next, in King's Lynn High Street, which is closing  Picture: Chris Bishop

Next, in King's Lynn High Street, which is closing Picture: Chris Bishop

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Don’t write town centres off yet - they can still offer you things you cannot get online.

Peacocks in King's Lynn, which is holding a closing down sale  Picture: Chris BishopPeacocks in King's Lynn, which is holding a closing down sale Picture: Chris Bishop

That’s the message from a Norfolk retail boss as the county’s high streets battle a triple whammy of competition from online, rising rates and falling footfall.

This weekend the perfect storm’s latest victim, Next on King’s Lynn’s High Street, closes its doors for the last time. The branch is the latest in a number of closures in the town.

Abbie Panks, manager of the town’s Vancouver Quarter shopping centre, said: “It’s always disappointing when any store closes and 2018 has been the most challenging year for retail that I have seen in the past seven years, but we must keep in context that this is a national picture and not just specific to King’s Lynn. If a national chain closes all its stores there is very little that can be done to stop that at ground level unfortunately.

“There is no “quick fix” for our town centres. There must be a coordinated approach and that includes everything from enabling additional services and leisure provision and not just retail in town centre units, right up to what planning permission is granted for out of town retail.

“King’s Lynn has a very strong calendar of free events which draws people into the town, the addition of King’s Lynn Farmers’ Market has also been great boost, although there is much which can be done around markets and pop-up shops in particular.

“Whilst we have seen some changes to business rates valuations, it’s still incredibly high in areas and this can often be make or break for businesses, this must continue to be revaluated by the government along with incentives and support for new businesses, more must also be done around tax on multi-national online businesses.

“We are in a period of economic uncertainty and naturally people are more cautious with spending. In addition, we still have threats from online retail, although only making up for 17% of sales it still has a significant detrimental impact.

“Do not write off town centres, the strength of a town centre is that it can offer things that you cannot get online. Online shopping does not create an experience of note, it does not offer the option to touch and feel a product, there is no social interaction and it does not bring money into your town.

The Costa coffee shop in the Vancouver Quarter, King's Lynn. Picture: Ian BurtThe Costa coffee shop in the Vancouver Quarter, King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt

“Stepping away from a computer and heading into your local town can have a far greater impact. With a trip to the cinema for example you could have arrived by public transport, enjoyed an early evening meal or drinks in town, or shared a coffee with friends and bought snacks at a local shop – the simple trip to the cinema now becomes something else, it becomes a spoke in the wheel of the local economy, your simple trip to the cinema has benefitted not one, but many local businesses, not only that, but the money spent in the town is more likely to stay in the town.”

Facebook users reacting to our report of the Next closure cited high parking charges and lack of boutique shops among the reasons they shopped elsewhere.

Judith Collingham told fellow West Norfolk councillors that the town needed to up its game when they met on Tuesday night to discuss tourism.

“We need to think of the leisure shopper and to give people a more pleasant shopping experience with a mix of varied shops and our history,” she said afterwards.

“We also need to challenge the internet shopper by having more personal shops in the town and present them in a more dynamic and pleasant looking way.”

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