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June 1 2012.

E-mail from Newhaven Chamber of Commerce:

There seems to be some misunderstanding by the public at large over rates and rent in the High Street. At present, EVERY small unit in the town centre is eligible for 100% rate relief. This means that they pay £0. Furthermore, rates are not set by Lewes District Council, they are set by Central Government.

Second, Landlords are not stupid - they don't want empty shops or offices and they will take rents that are low - provided the lessee isn't too cheeky of course!

The reason our High Street is suffering is exactly the same reason all other High Streets are suffering - out of town shopping, internet shopping and the recession. Even in bigger towns like Brighton and Eastbourne there are plenty of empty shops. In actual fact, Newhaven has around the national average of empty units - I know because I counted them and compiled the evidence for this town for the Portas bid!

Many years ago I recall a lady complaining that the greengrocers and butchers had closed. I asked her where she did her shopping - "Sainsbury's" she replied! Need I say more?

We didn't win our Mary Portas bid unfortunately, but there will be a second tranche of funding available later in the summer - Newhaven will again make a bid for it.

As for the future of the High Street - it's never going to be a shopping centre, the town isn't big enough - yet. I can envisage us ending up with something similar to the lanes in Brighton, or the more quaint parts of Lewes. Wine bars, restaurants, art and antique shops. We've got to be realistic about what we can achieve and take advantage of our natural resources too - the Downs, the river.....

I think we need two things:

1 - Brave shopkeepers willing to invest in the town.
2 - Residents of Newhaven to visit the town.

It's a chicken and egg situation though. If you, dear reader, were a potential shopkeeper doing your research in the town before opening a shop, you'd probably do a head a count and decide it wasn't worth opening as there are 'no people' in the town. As a 'customer' you'd wander around and decide it wasn't worth it either as there are 'no shops'.

On the bright side, we've had a new shop open recently, called The Treasure Chest, there's also work going on in the empty shop next door to this new one.

Finally, the ring road. Instead of being negative about it, why don't we as residents look on it as a positive thing. The High Street is calm, free of stinky diesel fumes, safe for small children without fear of them being hit by a passing car etc. It's time we stopped blaming everything and everyone except ourselves and started using our High Street again.

Paul Boswell
Newhaven Chamber of Commerce