July 23 2014 Latest news:
Mariam Ghaemi, West Suffolk reporter
Friday, June 13, 2014
The historic market town of Bury St Edmunds was last night hailed a “remarkable economic success story” as latest figures revealed that the centre is booming.
Footfall is up and the number of empty shops is down - bucking the national trend with many areas still struggling to emerge from the recession.
According to the statistics, released by St Edmundsbury Borough Council, the number of vacant premises last July was 10.5% – outside the 5-10% deemed healthy by the Association of Town Centre Management. However that figure is now down to 6.5%, which is below the national rate of 10.6%.
Meanwhile, high street footfall has risen by 2.4%, while the UK average has fallen by 1.4%.
The number of people using the borough council’s car parks has also rocketed from about 1.7million five years ago to just under 2.1m in 2013/14.
John Griffiths, leader of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, said: “I too often read of doom and gloom – that our car parks are empty, our shops are closing, and our market traders are downbeat.
“The reality of course is the opposite. Bury is both a lovely historic town – with great people, facilities, attractions and businesses – and a remarkable economic success story.”
He said this was the result of long-term thinking and hard work by St Edmundsbury’s officers together with residents, businesses and partners, including Ourburystedmunds (the town’s business improvement district group), Bury in Bloom, the police and the town council.
Events like the Whitsun Fayre, organised by Ourburystedmunds, have boosted footfall and a new youth market, run by the borough council, has welcomed several new stalls as part of a food aisle.
There have been some recent shop closures, including Cafe Waffle in the Buttermarket, but also new additions to the high street, such as Côte Brasserie.
Mr Griffiths said: “There will always be casualties, and successes, on high streets, but here we have anticipated challenges like online retailing and recessions, and made sure that our town centre is a destination of choice, attracting more shoppers and visitors alike.”
Ourburystedmunds chief executive Mark Cordell said: “Bury is seen as a place to visit and retains its place as one of the top visitor destinations in East Anglia.”
Darren Old, chairman of the town’s branch of the National Market Traders’ Federation, said while the market had not yet returned to the turnover of 2007/08, but the optimism was there.