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Unlocking Grays town centre's potential
8:00am Thursday 12th April 2012 in News
GRAYS town centre risks withering in the shadow of Lakeside Shopping Centre, according to Thurrock Council.
A new Town Team is being set up with the task of regenerating Grays, and working out how it can flourish alongside its neighbour, one of the country’s biggest shopping centres.
Grays was once the main shopping destination in Thurrock, and many readers have fond memories of its hey-day.
Thousands of people flocked to Lakeside when it opened its doors as Europe’s biggest shopping centre in 1990.
It’s widely acknowledged the huge centre, which spoils customers for choice and offers them free parking and a plethora of places to eat, sounded the death knell for Grays town centre.
Many readers have pinpointed the moment Marks and Spencer left Grays for Lakeside as the start of a downward spiral.
In its campaign video applying for the Mary Portas pilot town cash, Thurrock Council acknowledges something must be done to reverse the decline.
Council chief executive Graham Farrant said: “We believe this town centre has got real potential, but unless someting is done quickly to replan it and get working with businesses for the long-term future, we worry that it will actually decline in the shadow of Lakeside and the shopping centre will no longer be as vibrant as it has been in the past.”
At present, Grays town centre doesn’t have much to tempt people away from Lakeside Shopping Centre. It has a few big retailers such as WH Smith, Boots, Superdrug and New Look, but there is a lack of clothes shops for men or children and not many places to buy gifts or electricals.
What it does have is a lot of pound shops, charity shops and banks.
Parking is also an issue and many shoppers question why they should pay to park in Grays when they can do so for free at Lakeside.
There is also a lack of a real evening economy, the shopping centre doesn’t stay open past 6pm and lots of people feel the town centre is a no-go zone after dark.
So what can be done?
Thurrock Council doesn’t reveal what its plans for the regeneration are in its campaign video, other than “community budgeting”, “neighbourhood planning”, and a “virtual town network”.
Despite being eclipsed by Lakeside, Grays town centre does retain a strong and loyal following and many would argue that in the shadow of Lakeside, it has carved out a niche for itself as a haven for shoppers on a tight income.
It also has excellent public transport links and is in the process of launching an innovative loyalty card scheme offering discounts to residents.
The agreement seems to be that Grays town centre needs to co-exist with Lakeside by offering something different, such as an antiques market, as one resident in the campaign video suggests.
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