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'Stop killing our town centre': Petition launched after latest high street closure

PUBLISHED: 15:46 13 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:46 13 August 2019

London Road North, in Lowestoft, has seen a number of stores closing down in recent years. Photo: James Carr.

London Road North, in Lowestoft, has seen a number of stores closing down in recent years. Photo: James Carr.

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A call has been made to "stop killing Lowestoft town centre" following the latest store closure to rock the high street.

Calls have been made to review the car park charges across Lowestoft, including at Belvedere Road. Picture: NICK BUTCHERCalls have been made to review the car park charges across Lowestoft, including at Belvedere Road. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

A call has been made to "stop killing Lowestoft town centre" following the latest store closure to rock the high street.

Directed at Waveney MP Peter Aldous, a petition urges the issue of business rates, car parking charges and leasing practices to be raised in Parliament.

Launched by Wendy Brooks, of Melbourne Road, the petition comes weeks after it was revealed the town's Tesco Metro store would close in September.

The petition states: "Lowestoft is losing shops in its town centre almost weekly. The latest announcement that Tesco is to close its store in London Road North is the last straw.

London Road North, Lowestoft. Photo: James Carr.London Road North, Lowestoft. Photo: James Carr.

"Although the Tesco store closure may be part of a national strategic re-think by Tesco, we know that town centres and high streets up and down the country are having to deal with competition from out-of-town retail parks and online retailers.

"We also know that footfall in Lowestoft town centre is discouraged by high business rates and the cost of town centre parking.

"On top of all this, seaside towns and former fishing ports like Lowestoft are struggling to replace lost industry and livelihoods."

The petition also highlights Climate Emergency motions passed by local councils.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous has raised the future of Lowestoft high street in Parliament previously. Photo: Uk ParlimentWaveney MP Peter Aldous has raised the future of Lowestoft high street in Parliament previously. Photo: Uk Parliment

The petition states: "This means in part encouraging people to walk, cycle and use public transport rather than drive.

"Retail parks are aimed at car drivers and they do little to build and support a sense of community.

"Lowestoft now has several retail parks.

"Town centres are a community link. A vibrant town centre is necessary for the economic regeneration of this town, but it is more than that. It should act as a hub for our community, something that we can build out from, and build a future on."

Tesco Metro, London Road North, Lowestoft, which will close in September. Picture: Greta LevyTesco Metro, London Road North, Lowestoft, which will close in September. Picture: Greta Levy

HAVE YOUR SAY: What is the future of Lowestoft's town centre?

In April, Mr Aldous held a parliamentary debate into revitalising the town centre.

At the time, he claimed there were 75 empty premises out of 410, and warned the town centre was "in danger of being hollowed out."

Yet in July, it was announced Lowestoft would miss out on a slice of £675 million Future High Streets Fund.

Lowestoft's First Light Festival attracted thousands of visitors to the town. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYLowestoft's First Light Festival attracted thousands of visitors to the town. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Responding to the petition, Mr Aldous said: "High business rates is a serious issue and one that I have raised regularly in Parliament in the last few months because it needs to be addressed and when Parliament returns I will continue to work to find an appropriate solution.

"The issue of car parking is one that also needs to be looked at, and I have raised this in Parliament and with East Suffolk Council.

"From what I am hearing from residents, it is a constraint and an obstacle.

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"As for the leasing practices, it is important not to taint all property owners and landlords with the same brush.

"Some adopt a sympatheic approach which reflects the current market conditions and consider community issues and things like pop-up shops, but there are others who perhaps adopt a more aggressive approach to charging rents which means shops are never going to be able to make a go of it, and that gives a regular flow of shops coming and going."

Car parking charges has also been a regular topic of debate in the town, amid fears the fines and cost of parking could be putting off potential shoppers.

A spokesperson for East Suffolk Council said: "We all want to see a thriving town centre and it is always disappointing when a business makes the decision to close. However, this situation is not particular to Lowestoft.

"High streets and town centres across the country are in need of radical transformation to meet the demands of both local people and businesses.

"This has been recognised by the government as part of their 'Our Plan for the High Street' initiative, which includes investment through its Future High Streets fund and business rate reductions for retail properties.

"Although on this occasion we were unsuccessful in our bid for Future High Streets funding, we will continue to apply for relevant funding to support our ambitions to improve the town centre.

"We have already been successful with funding to support the North Lowestoft Heritage Action Zone, which focuses on the preservation and enhancement of the town's historic High Street and Scores, as well as funding for cultural projects in the town through Making Waves Together and the regeneration of both the Ness and South Beach.

"The seafront, in particular South Beach, is the main tourist attraction for the town, providing a huge draw to the 1.2 million visitors who come here each year. By working to enhance this area, there is the potential to increase visitor numbers, attract new businesses and provide a boost to the whole town, including the town centre.

"One of the main projects within our wider Seafront Vision was the creation of the First Light Festival. Over 10,000 people enjoyed this incredible event, many of who had never been to Lowestoft before and expressed interest in returning.

"While the full economic impact of the festival is still being calculated, accommodation in the town was all but fully booked ahead of the event and visitors also spent time in the town centre and surrounding areas.

"We appreciate that free parking may seem like an easy solution to attract shoppers and we have promoted a number of successful free parking offers in the past and would not rule these out again in the future.

"However, it is important that we find the right balance between encouraging visitors to the town centre and generating sufficient revenue which is needed to maintain and improve car parks themselves, as well as providing important funding for vital services which are needed by our most vulnerable communities.

"We are committed to exploring a range of ideas, along with further funding opportunities, to improve the town centre with parking forming only a part of this strategy. Along with partner organisations such as Lowestoft Vision and Lowestoft Rising, we want to consider opportunities to invest in the town itself and look at how we can attract more people to visit and take Lowestoft forward."

To sign the petition, go to: you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-tesco-s-closure

Food retailer urged for empty store

Following the announcement Tesco would be closing their Metro store on London Road North next month, many concerned shoppers highlighted the difficulties they would now face getting to other supermarkets in the town.

The petition states: "People who don't drive are finding it harder and harder to shop. People with disabilities, older people and families are particularly affected by shop closures, especially those on low incomes.

"Not everyone has access to the internet, and many of those who do still prefer to shop in store, for the social interaction and company that it gives them.

"Loneliness is recognised as a significant social problem for many people, especially the elderly and those with mental health issues. Access to local shops helps to combat the isolation of vulnerable people."

Mr Aldous also confirmed he has been in regular contact with the owners of the site of Tesco Metro to pass on concerns.

He said: "I have expressed the view that a food retail use would be appropriate because the feedback I have had is that some people rely on that store and going to out-of-town stores is not appropriate."

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