Revealed - The number of empty stores in Ipswich town centre
PUBLISHED: 05:30 16 October 2019 | UPDATED: 11:00 16 October 2019
Talks with around a dozen firms to bring new stores to Ipswich town centre are taking place, it has been revealed - as latest data shows around one in 10 town centre units are empty.
Data published by Ipswich Borough Council revealed that the authority had a target of no more than 55 empty town centre shops for 2018/19, but actually had 67 that were vacant.
It equates to nearly one in 10 shops being empty - a figure broadly in line with the national picture.
Efforts are being made to fill those derelict spaces, with the council understood to be in ongoing talks with around a dozen retailers, although the nature of those decisions means it can sometimes take several years to come to fruition.
'We are still able to attract new retailers to Ipswich'
Council leader David Ellesmere said: "Empty shops are a feature of towns and cities right across the UK.
"The triple whammy of internet shopping, out of town centre retail parks and Government-set business rates have caused a national crisis for town centre retailers.
"It is against this national background that we are doing what we can to get the level of empty shops down - in fact we reached the target for retail shops opening last year and two more have opened so far in 2019/20. We are still able to attract new retailers to Ipswich. Nationally, the empty premises rate in this category has risen to 13%.
"We are in contact with several potential businesses interested in locating to Ipswich but decisions often take several years to come to fruition. However there have been successes. Connexions is now fully occupied, the first tenant has moved into the Maltings, 19 new industrial units are being built at Futura Park and new office developments at Princes Street are progressing. We are expecting to achieve our target in 19/20. IBC is supporting the town centre by cutting car park prices, introducing special parking offers and putting on and supporting events throughout the year to attract people to the town centre - including a Cornhill programme, the Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk exhibition and the Elmer trail.
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"The relentless rise of internet shopping will continue to change the nature of town centres. We are putting flexible planning policies in place to enable us to diversify our town centre offer, with more homes and leisure facilities."
Among some of the most prominent empty units are the former Co-op store in Carr Street, the ex-Grimwades unit on the Cornhill and the old Post Office.
Pop-up stores such as the Christmas Ipswich Town Football Club shop and the seasonal Calendar Club unit are also measures town centres are using to attract tenants.
Elsewhere, developers behind the empty BHS store have secured planning permission to carve up the large building to try and attract several smaller companies to fill units, with larger retailers no longer seeking town centre stores.
Footfall figures 'really encouraging'
Ipswich Vision chairman Terry Hunt said: "The strategy is to get more people into the town centre and a key component of that is to encourage more people to live in or within striking distance of the town centre, for example the old EADT building, the old Co-op store at the end of Carr Street, the primary school in Carr Street.
"If you have people living in or near the town centre they will want to go shopping, they want to be entertained, they want to eat at restaurants and cafes, and they will want to go to shops and spend money. It's a key strategy to get more people into the town centre.
"On top of that, we need to find innovative and different uses for our empty shops, and that could be pop-up shops, places where families can be entertained, something to attract all ages.
"Ipswich had a great summer with the events on the new Cornhill, with the Ed Sheeran concerts and the success of the Elmer trail. It brought huge numbers of people into Ipswich to spend time and hopefully money.
"The footfall figures look really encouraging and it was an example of what Ipswich can do.
"The challenge now is to repeat that on an ongoing basis. That will bring people into the town and that will, to some extent, address the issue of failing shops."