CUSTOMERS are flocking back to Bognor Regis town centre.
Latest footfall figures for the shopping area show an astounding rise of just over 10,000 people – or 12.5 per cent – at the same time last year.
The total number of visitors in the middle of this month reached 91,812.
This bucks the general national trend of shoppers shunning bricks and mortar outlets in favour of online buying.
Paul Wells, chairman of the town’s Business Improvement District, said the increased popularity could be seen in the statistics for last Thursday. It showed 15,764 visitors compared to just 12,714 on the same day last year.
“This is a fantastic result, particularly when the weather has been working so hard against us all. These figures can only provide a snapshot of how well the town centre is doing,” said Mr Wells.
“But they give us a benchmark to let us know how we are doing and the data we use comes from Springboard, which uses the same method across the country.”
Mr Wells said one reason for the surge in visitors was the range of activities staged by the BID’s directors on 14 days in the month up to Christmas Eve.
“This is the first year that a programme of activities has been held in the town centre throughout December.
“We have also had a number of restaurants open this year, which is also bringing people into the town. The two-hours free parking scheme in three car parks, continuing next year, pulls people into the town centre as well,” he said.
The footfall count from Springboard, collated from camera-based tracking technology, shows the 12.5 per cent year on year change in Bognor Regis compares to a 0.8 per cent south east increase, a fall of 2.7 per cent in coastal towns nationally and a 1.3 per cent drop in the UK.
The year to date figures shows the town is down 2.7 per cent against 2017, which is on a par with the UK’s 2.6 per cent and better than the other benchmarks.
Among the town centre’s delighted customers is North Bersted resident Patricia Clow. He said: “What a fantastic Christmas season here in Bognor Regis. All credit to the BID team for the amazing attractions in and around London Road.
“I know it’s mainly aimed at children but we have certainly enjoyed all the events put on. Everything has been so well advertised this year, too.
“I also enjoyed the Walk of Witness put on by local churches. Thank you so much to all the organisers.”
But Mr Wells said it was important to keep the momentum up.
“We can’t be complacent. There are a lot of pressures on high streets and we are looking forward to 2019.
“Times are challenging – economically, politically and technologically – and we are working hard to deliver the initiatives, events and services identified in the business plan to support businesses and keep Bognor Regis high street relevant for today’s consumers,” he added.
*One blow to the town centre is the impending closure of the Burton’s menswear shop. This is expected to shut next February.
Mr Wells said: “I think this is more of a nationally-driven decision than anything to do with our town centre.
“It is a disappointment Burtons are closing but it is up to us to encourage a new company to occupy their shop by creating a vibrant town centre.”
Burtons has been open since 1937 and the building’s foundation stone can still be seen in the London Road precinct.