Rallying call to support town centre after storms, roadworks and coronavirus fears hit footfall
PUBLISHED: 07:30 09 March 2020
A business chief is urging people to get behind retailers in Bury St Edmunds after challenging conditions saw footfall in the town drop in February.
Mark Cordell, chief executive for Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District (BID) made the call after figures showed the numbers of people visiting the town centre in February were down 16% on the previous year - 250,000 compared to 310,000 in 2019.
Mr Cordell said at a local level a key factor had been the start of major roadworks in the town centre around Angel Hill on February 17.
However on a wider basis disruption caused by the recent Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge, plus growing concerns around the spread of coronavirus, had a cumulative effect.
"For a one-off month it's a huge drop and it's obviously disappointing but things like coronavirus and the weather are factors simply beyond our control," he said.
"The impact of coronavirus is difficult to quantify but anecdotally people are clearly concerned about mixing with other people.
"The roadworks are having an impact but to be fair to the highways team they are working the best they can to get what is a big job done."
Mr Cordell said the recent controversy over a rise in car park charges was not an issue as they were not being implemented until April.
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Trader Marcia Riddington of Smoking Monkey antiques said February had actually been a good month for her but she feared the long term effects of coronavirus on business.
"Lots of people come in here for a chat and many are saying coming into town is something they will do only if they have to because of coronavirus, which is a concern," she said.
Ms Riddington said she also feared the effects of the looming rise in parking charges. "I fear that is going to have such an impact," she said.
The BID represents businesses in the town and Mr Cordell said while the February figures were disappointing it was not all doom and gloom.
"The weather is going to get better, there is lots to do in Bury St Edmunds, and there is a lot to bring people here," he said.
"But I would urge people here to play their part and get behind the town centre. These are challenging times for retailers and they will appreciate your support."
Bury St Edmunds prides itself on its mix of independent traders but in recent months the town has been struggling.
Business closures and concerns over the number of empty units in the town has seen West Suffolk Council announce it is to hold a town centre summit to try and find a solution to help the high street.
Last month a consultation was launched among traders in St John's Street about banning traffic there at weekends as a way of encouraging visitors to that part of the town centre.