Closure of McDonald's 'huge blow' for high street
- Credit: Mick Howes
Shoppers and business owners expressed dismay after "another big name" departed the high street this week.
The closure of the McDonald's restaurant on the main approach to Lowestoft town centre has left a major site prime for redevelopment on London Road North.
Signs have been removed and windows were being boarded up as the former branch continued to be emptied on Friday, April 23 - two days after a brand new drive-through restaurant for the fast food chain opened out of town at Kirkley Rise in South Lowestoft.
Having been in Lowestoft town centre for more than 35 years, the closure shocked business leaders.
Now, East Suffolk Council is liaising with Lowestoft Vision – the town’s business improvement district (BID) - and developers over the "large vacant premises".
A spokesman for East Suffolk Council said: “We would have preferred the existing business to remain in the town centre, in addition to the new restaurant at Kirkley Rise.
"However, as with any large vacant premises, we are working with developers and Lowestoft Vision to ensure that new businesses are trading in these buildings as soon as possible.
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"Members of our Economic Regeneration Team have been in contact with the agent for the McDonald’s building and hope to work with them to ensure its future use aligns with the vision we have for Station Square, which includes an improved culture and leisure offer as detailed in the Town Centre Masterplan."
According to the Lowestoft Town Investment Plan, vacancy rates in the town centre "were 20.57pc" as of September 2020.
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This showed that there were "87 properties standing vacant across the town centre and historic high street areas, equating to a vacancy rate of 20.57pc and 17,599sq m in floorspace."
Among these are the former Argos store, next door to the now closed McDonald's, which shut in July 2016 and has remained empty since.
Further up London Road North, Lowestoft's post office closed in September 2016 and moved into W H Smith nearby, but the iconic building has been empty for more than four-and-a-half years.
The former Tesco Metro building at 119 to 125 London Road North, closed in September 2019 after decades serving the community. It remains empty and plans for it to be redeveloped for residential use were scrapped this week.
Department store Beales closed in April 2019, and moved into Palmers - a store that had stood proudly in Lowestoft town centre since 1907.
Founded as the family-run Chadds independent department store in 1907, after almost 100 years trading in the high street it was taken over in 2004 by Palmers.
But owners Beales collapsed into administration in January 2020 and eventually closed in Lowestoft in March last year.
For business owners in Lowestoft town centre, the latest closure is a major blow.
Matthew Goddard, managing director of Picture Studios - a popular photography studio on London Road North - said: "It's a huge blow for the town, particularly for that end with Argos and the Post Office already closed.
"Unfortunately it's another big name gone from the high street.
"But I do feel we have to embrace the changing face of the high street and move forward.
"We can't all be doom and gloom - town centres are changing all over the country."
Sharon Cleary, owner of Toy Joy Oasis in Lowestoft, said: "On top of all the closures we have had, this is another blow.
"It is very hard to get people up here as it is.
"There are a lot more shops up this part of London Road North than people think."
Matt and Jenny Wade, co-owners of Annatar on London Road North, said: "It is a heck of a blow.
"It's disappointing and a big loss for the town centre.
"Being such a prominent site, to have something going in there is important - and hopefully, the sooner the better."
Chris Brooks was among those shopping in the town centre on Friday. He said: "It's not good for north Lowestoft.
"It is such a prominent site that is easily accessible for those wanting to walk into the town centre and north Lowestoft.
"Hopefully somebody steps in and takes on the site quickly, as I feel that while it is a blow in the short term if it is developed properly with a long term vision in mind then there is a real opportunity there for long term gain."
Lauren Palmer, 24, a pharmacy assistant from Lowestoft, said the town centre McDonald's would be "sorely missed" as it held "lots of memories".
She said: "It's ridiculous.
"So many people of all ages have used that McDonald's as it was so convenient in the town centre."