Mary Portas invited to Bognor Regis

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A retail guru known as the Queen of Shops has been invited to reign over Bognor Regis.

The invitation to TV celebrity Mary Portas has come from the town’s chamber of commerce.

Ms Portas has been appointed by the prime minister, David Cameron, to suggest how the decline of Britain’s high streets in the face of out-of-town and internet shopping could be reversed.

Chamber chairman and president Nick Stuart-Nicolson said he hoped she would be able to visit Bognor before she issued her report to the government this autumn.

He told Monday’s meeting of the chamber: “The challenge for Bognor is in enticing and welcoming visitors and shoppers to our town and in encouraging shoppers not to travel to Chichester or beyond.

“In this respect, it is important that Mary Portas should encourage the preservation of town centres – but not at the expense of out-of-town.

“We do need to retain the familiar and complement them with innovative independent retailers including grocers, butchers and independent clothes stores in the town centre but recognise the convenience of out-of-town.

“The town centre needs some ‘hidden gems’ – specialist shops or particularly outstanding restaurants. The challenge is in attracting them.

“We must also make it as pleasant as possible for people to spend time in Bognor. Because if people spend time, they will also spend money.”

He said this made car parking crucially important in helping the town centre to survive.

He called it the principal deterrent to visiting central Bognor.

“Free parking for two hours is what we have very clearly insisted is the way forward.

“Arun District Council would benefit anyway because a great number of those parking will be staying somewhat longer,” he said.

He would be seeking a meeting with the council’s leader, Gillian Brown, to discuss the matter as well as the closure of Bognor’s visitor information centre on August 31.

Nick Stuart-Nicolson also said town-centre shopping needed to be made easier, stress-free and more enjoyable.