'Livelihoods are being jeopardised': Waveney MP holds debate in parliament over future of Lowestoft high street
PUBLISHED: 15:11 11 April 2019 | UPDATED: 15:11 11 April 2019
The struggles of Lowestoft's high street was scrutinised as part of a parliamentary debate into revitalising the town centre.
Waveney MP Peter Aldous raised the issue in the House of Commons on Wednesday, April 10, following the news of more shop closures this week.
He claimed there were 75 empty premises out of 410 last month, and warned the town centre is “in danger of being hollowed out.”
Mr Aldous said: “Businesses on the high street in Lowestoft are really struggling at present and there is an urgent need for government, both national and local, to work with the private sector to address the problem. If we do not do so, more businesses will close, more jobs will be lost and more livelihoods will be jeopardised.
“While there are specific challenges that need to be addressed in Lowestoft, this is a challenge town centres face all around the country.
“High streets are the backbone of our economy. They are at the heart of local communities, they nurture local businesses and they provide many local jobs.
“Millions of people all around the country do or have worked in retail, quite often in town centres and very often as their first experience of the workplace.
“In Lowestoft there are exciting plans but for these to be successful we need a vibrant high street to be the beating heart at the centre of the community.”
Mr Aldous called on those involved in the “reinvention” of the high street to work together to halt the “alarming acceleration of shop closures.”
He highlighted several causes both nationally, such as the move towards retail parks out of town, high rents and business rates, and the “relentless” rise of internet sales, as well as causes local to Lowestoft, such as poor road and rail links and the accessibility of Norwich for shopping and culture.
He also called for a review of car park charges and for a new occupier for the former town hall, as well as for services such as surgeries, clinics, schools and colleges to be encouraged into the town centre.
He said: “I sense the Future High Street Fund will be over-subscribed and the government will be under pressure to hand out smaller slices of cake to many towns.
“I am conscious that East Suffolk Council’s vision, while exciting, may feel like a distant dream to those businesses fighting for their survival on Lowestoft’s high street.
“With the Brexit debate raging, there is a worry the future of our high streets will be overlooked. This must not happen.
“If it does, then we shall be letting down people, communities and businesses all around the country.
“In Lowestoft, I believe there is an exciting future, but to get there, while limiting fallout, requires a concerted effort by all, with government taking the lead.”
Responding to Mr Aldous’ comments, Parliamentary under secretary for housing, communities and local government Jake Berry said: “I think it is so exciting the passion which he has spoken with and it is shared by this government.
“Over 300 bids have been sent in for the high street fund and we are currently reviewing them.
“Parking charges should always be locally determined, but what I will say is that if you visit somewhere like the Trafford Centre, where parking is free, the car park is full, but if you visit somewhere you have to pay to park, it is empty, just like our shops will be if people do not visit.”
As well as the difficulties facing High Street and London Road North in Lowestoft town centre, Mr Aldous praised London Road South, in Kirkley.
He said: “The business community there have come together in recent years to regenerate that particular street.
“They have been very successful in doing so, but they also face challenges and I shall be liaising with them as to how best to assist them.