Landlords of empty shops ‘Need a reality check’ says Bury St Edmunds retail chief

Giraffe is offering customers a refund for night time parking costs  Pictured: Brook Wilson (Waitress), Mark Cordell (Bid4Bury) and Rob Love (Assistant Manager)
Giraffe is offering customers a refund for night time parking costs Pictured: Brook Wilson (Waitress), Mark Cordell (Bid4Bury) and Rob Love (Assistant Manager)
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The chief executive of a town centre business group has said landlords of long term empty shops ‘need a reality check.’

Mark Cordell from Bid4Bury has called on St Edmundsbury Borough Council to host a meeting with landlords and letting agents.

He said although Bury St Edmunds is fairing better than other towns, he is concerned about ten shops that have stood empty long term.

One of those is the former Hawkins Bazaar which closed just over a year ago.

“That unit costs £48,000 a year in rent and £28,000 in business rates.

“You have got to be making at least £100,000 before you can make that work. We need a reality check,” he told the council’s Bury Area Working Party on Tuesday.

“The council, the landlords and the agents need to work harder to get these units back in use.

“At the moment there seems to be a policy of lets sit and hope for the best. I’m not comfortable doing that,” he said.

The vacancy rate in Bury is 10.1 per cent against a national average of 14 per cent.

But Mr Cordell said the collection of empty shops such as The Officers Club and the neighbouring Hawkins Bazaar on The Cornhill, left a different perception with visitors.

“They feel that part of the town is run down. It then becomes difficult to attract new tenants there.

“That is our Achilles’ heel,” Mr Cordell said.

He said that then impacted on the number of shoppers walking on to St Johns Street.

One idea is to fill empty units with ‘pop’ up shops which are charged a lower rent than a full-time tenant.

“It makes sense for the landlord to get some income.But for some reason they don’t get it,” Mr Cordell said.

“We need to start to pester them, they have a social responsibility to the town.”

Market research showing the number of food outlets in the town has grown from 50 to 70 in the last two years, paints a health picture for the town’s economy, Mr Cordell said.

Wildwood is to open in Abbeygate Street while Thai restaurnt Bai Tong will open in St Johns Street, and Giraffe is refunding the cost of evening parking to its customers.

Arc manager Colin Roberts said he had six empty units, three of which have never been let –but he is optimistic that some will soon be filled.

He said the arc recorded eight million visits last year – although this was down 1.3 per cent against a national fall to shopping centres of 2.3 per cent.

Cllr Sara Mildmay-White said council officers regularly spoke to letting agents.

- Mr Cordell meanwhile said shops also need to do more.

He said there was a reluctance among the independent retailers to open on sundays despite figures showing it is the third busiest day in the town after market days.

He also said that while national data showed that shops make twice as much by staying open from 5pm to 7pm than by being open all morning, retailers in the town ‘Are again relunctant to stay open past 5pm’.