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What is the future for former Marks and Spencers which shut three years ago?

PUBLISHED: 07:54 08 December 2017 | UPDATED: 11:39 08 December 2017

Marks and Spencer closing down its store in Great Yarmouth town centre.

Picture: James Bass

Marks and Spencer closing down its store in Great Yarmouth town centre. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2015

A gaping hole was left in Great Yarmouth when the big retailers Marks and Spencers and BHS closed.

This week, the former BHS store in Great Yarmouth has been bought, leading to speculation that a major chain may be set to move into the town centre.

It comes as Great Yarmouth Borough Council is investigating how to bring the old M&S store in King Street back into use.

MORE: Farewell to Marks and Spencer

Council leader Graham Plant said they were looking at ways to bring the former M&S store, which closed nearly three years ago, back into use.

He added: “The council is not being idle in finding alternative uses for that building.”

The former Marks and Spencer store in Great Yarmouth town centre which is currently empty.

Picture: James Bass

The former Marks and Spencer store in Great Yarmouth town centre which is currently empty. Picture: James Bass

The council has also requested that the building’s owner board up the stores door ways, which are used by rough sleepers.

After 104 years of serving customers in Great Yarmouth, Marks and Spencer moved out of town in January 2015.

The traditional high street retailer opened a food outlet at Gapton Hall where it remains today.

Speculation over BHS

The new owner of the old BHS store in Regent Road, which closed last year, is not yet known and its future use remains unclear.

But members of the public have taken to social media to speculate over which national chains they would like to see move in, with Primark being a brand many would like to see.

The former Great Yarmouth BHS store was sold prior to an auction held in London on Tuesday.

The Regent Road store has been empty since the department store chain went into administration last year.

It is not yet known who has bought the site or how much it sold for, but the sign showing the building was up for auction has already been taken down.

The prominent building was to be auctioned by Allsop LLP Commercial with a guide price of up to £700,000.

The auction documents say the vacant Yarmouth property may be suitable for subdivision, conversion and complete re-development, subject to the necessary consents by the borough council.

Regeneration and a Masterplan...

The two stores represent a big chunk of empty retail space in the town centre, as national figures show the number of empty shops in the area is above the national average.

Figures for October show 15pc of town centre shops were empty compared to 12.2pc nationally.

The borough council is fighting back to turn things around with bold plans to regenerate the town centre.

Mr Plant said traditional town centres nationally had seen reduced demand for retail space in recent years but the council recognised strengthening the town centre is a top public priority.

He added: “As the longer-term element of this, we are working hard with partners to deliver the Town Centre Masterplan, the core aim of which is to build confidence, highlight assets and opportunities, and secure investment, by setting out a clear, coherent and compelling vision.

“The council has a high-profile presence at national and international investor conferences, which has attracted inward investment enquiries, and is producing development briefs to help promote opportunities in the town centre.”

Mr Plant said the Christmas ice rink was one way of getting people back into the town centre.

A new cinema and restaurant area?

A vision to regenerate Great Yarmouth town centre was set in motion earlier this year.

The Town Centre Masterplan has £1m of council money behind it and it aims to transform the town centre and improve links between different parts of it over the coming decade.

The ambition is to strengthen the town centre as a commercial and cultural hub, and meet future needs and challenges.

By 2025 it is hoped the area around King Street and Regent Road will be revitalised with new shops and businesses, and a leisure-based anchor, possibly a cinema, and bars, restaurants and cafes.

Shaped through two public consultations, discussions with partners and commercial testing, the core of the Masterplan is to build confidence, highlight opportunities, and secure investment, by setting out a clear vision, led by the borough council and backed by partners in the community.

Seaside struggles

Across the wider region there is evidence of a big decline in the retail sector.

The Norwich-based Centre for Retail Research predicted the total number of stores in the Eastern region has fallen by 22pc since 2012.

Professor Joshua Banfield said the problems were not unique to Great Yarmouth.

He added: “When shopkeepers retire there often is no-one to take over.”

He said seaside towns like Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft were seen as real problem areas because of the decline of staple industries like fishing and the fact so many people take holidays abroad.

He said: “They also tend to be a certain distance away from other areas of employment so even if someone wants to get somewhere you have to spend a lot on transport.

“The whole retail industry is under pressure because of online trade and people spending a lot more on experiences.”

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