Shops closing early and drop in customers blamed on M&S closure
- Credit: Archant
Closure of the M&S store in Felixstowe is being blamed for a big drop in customers and trade in the town centre – leading some shops to close early.
Community leaders are so concerned at the turnaround in fortunes for local traders that they are to ask East Suffolk Council to allow free parking on Saturday afternoons to attract more shoppers - and are willing to offer the district authority up to £6,000 compensation for loss of revenue.
M&S closed its Felixstowe store in April despite protests from council leaders, businesses and 8,000 people signing a petition.
The company said the move was "vital and necessary for the future of M&S" and it was essential its shops were alongside other major outlets which would attract customers.
Mayor of Felixstowe Nick Barber told Felixstowe Town Council: "We need to start somewhere and be seen to be trying to do something.
"I think the traders will be happy to advertise the free parking. The town is quiet and shops are closing early - we now have shops closing at 1pm. They are seeing the dramatic drop in footfall and trade.
"Two years ago in my shop Saturday was half my weekly turnover - now it's by far the worst day of the week."
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Mr Barber said there was also a problem persuading local people to come into town and many shoppers were visitors, and he felt the situation would continue to worsen.
He added: "The retail sector is churning and will continue to churn - the multi-nationals will not carry on in this town in the next five years to 10 years."
Councillor Kimberley Williams, who proposed the free parking in Ranelagh Road, Crescent Road and Highfield Road car parks after 3pm on Saturdays, said the loss of M&S had had a dramatic and inevitable impact on other retailers and in a very short time, too. She felt the free parking would bring benefits for the whole town.
Councillor Doreen Savage said: "I have been talking to traders and they say that there is no doubt since M&S closed and the cut through is no longer there (from Highfield car park) the footfall into that area of Hamilton Road has fallen dramatically. We need to get someone into M&S and get that store open again."
Councillor Steve Wiles, who has considerable retail experience, supported the free parking but said it would not solve the high street's problems and more action was needed. He felt the least needed time of the day for free parking was late on a Saturday.
He said: "If you drive into the car park at the back of the Co-op on a Saturday afternoon there are plenty of spaces there. It's not the UK shopping habit to go out en masse on a Saturday afternoon.
"We need to help retailers by going into shops and spending our hard-earned cash. Free parking will not solve the problems."
The town council agreed to ask East Suffolk if free parking could be provided if the town council could help compensate for any loss of parking revenue.