How has Covid-19 impacted on Ipswich shop numbers?
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Experts say it is likely to be next year when the full impact of Covid-19 on Ipswich town centre is seen - as new data about the number of empty shops is published.
Figures from Ipswich Central for its BID (business improvement district) area indicated a vacancy rate of 13% in June, 13.06% in September and 12.69% last month, which included retailers, banks and building societies, bars, restaurants and cafes.
At Ipswich Borough Council, a survey of 532 units in the town was carried out on Wednesday last week, and recorded 88 vacant units - 13 more than the same time last year.
According to the council's numbers, 15 units vacant at that point last year have been let during that time, while 28 that were occupied then are vacant now.
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That makes the council's vacancy rate at around 16.5% as of last week, although the council and Ipswich Central cover different sized areas and types of unit.
Town bosses have said that it is likely to be 2021 when the true picture emerges however, as government support through schemes such as furlough continues until the spring.
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Chief executive of Ipswich Central, Paul Clement, said: "It's the middle of next year before we will begin to see the true damage to town centres all over the country.
"Within the next two-to-three years there will be significantly less retailers so we have got to be realistic.
"The most important thing for a town centre is to get more people living in the town centre - that should be the priority number one."
Mr Clement pointed to the struggles of national chains like Debenhams and the Arcadia group which are yet to be fully seen, but encouraged people to shop with independent stores this Christmas.
Ipswich Borough Council leader David Ellesmere echoed that sentiment.
"Local retailers were there to support us at the start of lockdown, we should support them now," he said.
"It's clearly a very tough time that town centres are going through now across the country and we may still see more retailers go bust until we are out of the pandemic.
"I think the future of town centres will probably be smaller with independent stores, and whatever we can do to encourage those we will do."
Mr Ellesmere said there had been some success stories, such as new independents Bonbon in Buttermarket and Dial Lane Books, as well as the new Deichmann store and work beginning to fit out the old BHS store for Sports Direct.
The council has also submitted its bid for up to £25million of government cash through the Towns Fund, some of which aims to revitalise the town centre.
As part of that, there are "quite a few actions around bringing empty town centre buildings back into use", according to Mr Ellesmere, be it local schemes or through the private sector, but those will not be finalised until the government has given its backing and individual business cases have been confirmed.