Positive year ahead predicted for Bury St Edmunds town centre

Business leaders in Bury St Edmunds say new data from a town centre study gives cause for optimism in the local economy during 2024.  Coupled with footfall figures from the week before Christmas, which show that nearly 25% more people visited the town centre than in the same period in 2022, it suggests that some of the challenges of 2023 are starting to diminish.

The benchmarking study commissioned by the Business Improvement District (BID) organisation Our Bury St Edmunds asked for feedback from those who visit or live in the town centre as well as business owners.  A record 99% of respondents said they would recommend a visit to Bury St Edmunds to others and more than 70% of the businesses questioned rated the prosperity of the town as positive.

Where spending is concerned, Bury St Edmunds is faring better than the national average for similar sized towns. On a typical visit to the town 31% said they spend between £10 and £20 but 44% said they spend more than £20, which is 4% higher than the average.  And 80% of those questioned said they visited the town at least once a week. Turnover had been as good or better in the last year for 85% of the businesses questioned compared to 63% nationally.

The results have been generally encouraging according to Our Bury St Edmunds BID Chief Executive Mark Cordell, and measures are already being put in place to address areas highlighted as needing attention.  He said: “This report makes welcome reading as we head into 2024.  I was especially pleased to see that around three quarters of the businesses who responded were positive about the work of the BID, particularly highlighting our marketing and free training courses for member businesses.  From the public perspective our cafes and restaurants, were very highly rated – significantly more so than the national average and at a similar level to previous years as a very valued aspect of the town centre.

“The footfall recorded in this survey on both market and non-market days was higher in the busiest part of town than any of our previous studies and also around 30% higher than the national average.  Together with the most recent footfall data from our own monitoring showing that numbers for the year to date were up by nearly 8% on 2022 this is very encouraging.  Bury St Edmunds has out-performed both the regional and national figures for that week, compared to the previous year.”

The survey also asked respondents for their views on where improvements could be made.  As in previous years’ reports, car parking issues were highlighted by both users and businesses.    A number of respondents also commented on anti-social behaviour and suggested more visible policing in the town to reduce this.

Addressing those concerns, Mark Cordell added: “The policing model for the town has changed in the last month and I have already met the new dedicated police officer who is committed to addressing anti-social behaviour including street drinking as a priority.  I have also arranged for the Police and Crime Commissioner to visit Bury St Edmunds soon to meet business owners and hear any concerns, particularly concerning retail-related crime.

“Although parking is not an area that comes under the BID’s remit, I will be sharing the results of the survey with those responsible for parking at West Suffolk Council and continue to engage with the authority to bring concerns from business members to their attention.”

In many aspects of the report, Bury St Edmunds scored well above the national average for similar sized town centres. The significant findings of the research include:

  • A record 99% of respondents (compared to 91% in 2021) said they would recommend a visit to the town to others, which is 30% higher than the national average.
  • In terms of business confidence, 44% of businesses reported they expected their turnover to increase in 2024 compared to 34% nationally.
  • Physical appearance, cleanliness, hospitality, cultural activities/events and retail offer all scored significantly higher as positives compared to other towns.
  • Convenience shopping and leisure were the two most popular reasons given for visiting the town centre – both more than 10% higher than the national average.
  • The aspect rated highest as a negative was car parking by 45% of respondents which is broadly in line with the national average.

The study was carried out by researchers from People and Places Insight Ltd via online and face to face surveys.  Businesses were invited to participate via a postal or online response.

Posted 6 months ago