It must be apparent to us, from councillors, civic bodies and townspeople all, that our town centre is suffering a serious, though not inevitable, commercial decline.
Our historic vista of a market place is nothing more than a car park with the added attraction of an evening race track. North Street now hosts at least a dozen either empty or charity shops, while empty or boarded premises greet the visitor on every approach.
Every sympathy and our admiration must be given to the remaining independent traders, from Winch & Blatch, Kestrel Books, Peddars and others that valiantly attempt to stem the tide.
Meanwhile, the out-of-town retailers and the soon-to-be-open Sainsbury’s put the nail in the proverbial coffin.
These conglomerates, for reasons that our political servants find impossible to explain, pay business rates way out of proportion to their lesser rivals.
Watson’s greengrocers, having served the community for three generations, has now closed its doors. We must be the only town of comparable size with no independent butcher, greengrocer or fishmonger. Even our adjacent villages boast better.
Our town centre, once a vibrant commercial thoroughfare, is rapidly becoming unviable, with nothing more than betting shops and takeaways to encourage the visitor.
Without our weekly market and those so few beleaguered shops, there is no reason to visit Sudbury. The few tourist attractions such as The Quay Theatre and Gainsborough’s House, staffed by civic-minded volunteers, cannot stand alone. We desperately need a thriving commercial town to bring in shopper and visitor alike.
The answer? Councils and landlords must offer rent and rating holidays (say six months 50 per cent reduction) to encourage entrepreneurs to start up.
Relaxing some licensing restrictions so that hopefully more wine bars, restaurants etc could open in the town centre offering that evening café society so beloved in other towns.
A summer’s evening visit to Bury St Edmunds will confirm how attractive and above all vibrant a town centre can be. Compare its St John’s Street with our North Street during the day and see successful small traders thrive.
An evening patrolling police presence to offer a sense of security for the elderly and families to dine or shop in a relaxed atmosphere.
And above all the support of us the townspeople.
Why shop at some out-of-town warehouse or on the internet when those same products are (or were) available in your town centre independent? His profits, such as they are, are spent in the community, and not invested in retail schemes abroad.
To continue to form endless talking shops, offering solutions or advice that we have no power to administer is not the answer. Do not our district councillors realise that without full and profitable retail outlets there are no business rates (ask what the charity shops pay)?
This shortfall, so desperately needed to pay the overheads of our elected bodies, has to be made up from elsewhere. Yes, from you, the domestic ratepayer, and fortunately, the elector.
To summarise; Support your local trader. Where possible, patronise that town centre shop or he may not be there next year.