Bury St Edmunds: Good news for shoppers as number of vacant town centre shops falls to lowest level in five years

Saturday, March 8, 2014
9:00 AM

Bury St Edmunds is today bucking the national trend with growing footfall and a booming town centre.

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New figures show the number of empty shops has fallen to its lowest level since the start of the economic crisis.

A mere 6.9 percent of town centre shops are now standing vacant - the lowest level for five years, and way down on the national average of 11.1 percent.

There was further good news for Bury businesses as footfall in The Arc and the number of people using car parks has also shot-up by more than 10 percent this January compared to the same time last year.

Both Mark Cordell, chief executive of business improvement group Our Bury St Edmunds, and councillor Robert Everitt, St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s cabinet member for Bury, said the success was a result of hard work, partnership working and Bury’s unique all-round offer.

“We’ve all been working hard to make a visit to the town centre a pleasant experience,” said Mr Cordell.

“The fact the town is clean, safe and looks lovely with the flowers gives a further impression it’s a great place to be. This isn’t rocket science.

“We’re a small team, we shouldn’t be in the premier league of places to visit, but we are.”

The news comes at the end of an upbeat week for Bury’s businesses, as the line-up for the Women’s Tour of Britain, which ends in Bury, was revealed, as well as the announcement of two opportunities for young entrepreneurs - the TestTown initiative and West Suffolk youth markets.

Mr Cordell said the TestTown experiment, which gives young business people a vacant shop in which to trial their idea, normally looks for rundown towns, but that organisers Carnegie UK Trust were won over by Bury’s thriving town centre.

He added: “It’s about doing some ambassadorial work, trying to accommodate these people and make it easy for them to come to Bury. Rather than us having to chase people, we’re now having people call us.”

“They don’t just arrive without somebody picking up the phone, harassing and haranguing people,” said Mr Everitt, who also paid tribute to the town’s independent stores, museums and Christmas Fayre.

He added: “It’s been a long, hard slog, and we’ve been pilloried in the past. Markets are struggling across the country, but rather than wash our hands of ours, we paid for some consultants to tell us what we could be doing to make our markets better.”

There was also praise for the reasonably new Bury Town Team, which was created last year and brings together key stakeholders from the town’s public and private sector.

Mr Cordell said: “With the creation of the town team last year, we are now reaping the benefits of productive and proactive partnership, where positive changes are happening far more quickly.

“What the town mustn’t do, though, is be complacent. We’re competing with other town centres for consumers and we need to keep our game up.”

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