Big ideas for future of the town

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A VISION for the future of Morpeth town centre has been outlined by traders, with more shops, parking and a leisure and culture zone.

Discussions are currently taking place about the development of the town as the community works on drawing up a Neighbourhood Plan.

As part of the process an economic working group has been formed and initial ideas have been presented.

They include opening up the riverside behind Morpeth Library and Gas House Lane for leisure and cultural services, building a double-deck car park at the Post Office site in Oldgate, with new shops at the front, and providing a new access to Newgate Street.

Working group member Ken Stait presented the suggestions to the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade this week to encourage people to engage in the discussions.

He said: “We need to recognise how important the Neighbourhood Plan is going to be in formulating the future development of the town because the Government is very keen on localism, devolving decision-making down to local communities.

“In a town like Morpeth, it is not like a greenfield site, we don’t have a blank canvas. We have to work within the constraints of a medieval town.

“We don’t want to compromise this wonderful place we live in, but there are sites available. We have got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to formulate our own plans as to how these sites can be used.

“Sometimes if you leave it up to developers they go for the quickest return and that is not necessarily to the benefit of the town as a whole, or the commercial town centre.

“From the chamber of trade’s point of view it is about trying to add to Morpeth’s appeal, whether that is culturally, or through employment, or shopping. It is trying to add value to the town centre.”

Mr Stait, who leads the chamber’s marketing group, said that Newgate Street must be a priority for attention as footfall has plummeted.

He has suggested creating double entrances to shops, so that they can be accessed from Back Riggs as well as the main street, and he said the under-used alleyways could be turned into attractive courtyards, with businesses all around, while a new pedestrian access could be made.

For Oldgate, he said the Post Office sorting office could move to a more accessible site in Fairmoor, freeing up its current premises for parking and shops.

“Having a car park in Oldgate would draw people down there and revitalise Oldgate,” he said.

“When the post office was there it was a vibrant area, but since the counter service moved out the street has really suffered.

“The sorting office is not really a town centre use and I think a site at Fairmoor would have good access for the vehicles to get out and about.

“We could put a double deck car park at the Oldgate site. There are not many places you could put that in Morpeth without compromising the feel of the town, but that area sits behind the street scene.”

Mr Stait said better use could be made of the telephone exchange site in Newgate Street and the vacant car sales outlet in Castle Square, with views of the riverside and Carlisle Park respectively.

And buildings near the library, such as The Willows, could be transformed for mixed use development.

“There could be bars, restaurants, the library, an arts and culture centre, maybe a heritage centre or a mini theatre, something that is sustainable and would give Morpeth something extra,” he said.

“Morpeth’s jewel is the river, but the commercial town centre doesn’t really interact with it. This would be an opportunity to create something that would work with the river.”

He added: “None of these things are proposals yet, they are just ideas, but it is important that everybody gets involved in the Neighbourhood Plan because it could form the framework for how the town develops over the next 20 years.

“This needs to be driven by the community, with businesses and residents working together to make sure that we get the right plan.”