What is the future for Lowestoft's historic high street?
- Credit: Mick Howes
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way in which people shop and spend, with a move to online shopping rather than using our once bustling high streets.
Recent data released by East Suffolk Council in its Annual Monitoring Report for 2019/20 shows that one in five town centre units in Lowestoft are now unoccupied.
In the whole of east Suffolk, Lowestoft has the highest percentage of its town centre units available at 21 per cent, compared to 6.3 per cent in Felixstowe, which has the fewest.
But this does not stop Danny Steel, of Steel and Co and who sits on Lowestoft Vision's board, from saying that the high street is not slowly dying, instead it is evolving.
Mr Steel said: "There is no doubt that high streets like Lowestoft's, particularly London Road North, are suffering because of online retail parks like North Quay and online shopping.
"This just means that the high street will have to evolve with the times.
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"If we look across to Europe, high streets there are focussed on service-based businesses like cafes, hairdressers, restaurants with retail being located in other areas.
"It means that our high street will slowly gear towards offering service-based businesses, it's just Covid has brought about this process at a faster rate."
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Mr Steel added that a potential £24.9million grant from the government will help kickstart this.
"We already have galleries, coffee shops, independent businesses opening up on the high street and Kirkley now has a village feel to it," he said.
"Our problem is London Road North, but if we secure funding from the government, the empty units of the old Tesco, Beales and Palmers can be split into an innovation centre to attract people to the high street.
"I would say to the people of Lowestoft don't give up on this dynamic and exciting high street."
Dan Poitras, also of Lowestoft Vision supported these views.
He said: "We won't know the true economic impact until non-essential retail is allowed back open.
"Covid has certainly accelerated changes to the high street that would have inevitably happened anyway.
"The high street will instead be celebrated as a recreation and leisure centre.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what the future holds."