Town bids for £100,000 boost

A £100,000 BOOST could be given to Morpeth’s economy as it seeks to become a Town Team Portas Pilot.

Businesses are hoping the bid will be a shot in the arm for the market town’s economy following a dramatic fall in custom since a temporary one-way system was introduced in January to accommodate roadworks.

Some shops have been unable to cope with the decline and some, including the long-established Appleby’s Bookshop in Newgate Street, are to close.

But the wider picture is much more encouraging, with Morpeth establishing itself in recent years as one of the most popular market towns in the North East for shopping.

Now organisations have come together with traders to start a new economic development forum, which aims to make the high street even more attractive for residents and visitors.

The group, which includes business owners, Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, Morpeth Town Council and the Greater Morpeth Development Trust, has identified its first task as submitting the pilot town application under a Government scheme inspired by retail expert Mary Portas. Up to £100,000 in funding will be awarded to each of 12 winning towns.

Forum member Coun Ken Brown, said: “The three organisations had been working as a loose partnership for some time, but the utility works and the Portas pilot project sparked the idea of formally coming together to see what we could do to boost Morpeth’s economy.

“It continues to be a tough environment for businesses and although the town centre is a great place for shopping and eating out, things could decline if we sit back and do nothing.

“To start with we will be looking at the events we could put on and how we can improve Morpeth’s appearance, for example dealing with empty land and the hoardings outside Morpeth Court House and the former Benfield Renault site.

“We have a number of events and activities in the pipeline for the first weekend, March 30 to April 1, after the one-way system has finished and at Easter to show that Morpeth is well and truly open for business and a fun place to visit.”

Under its plans to try to achieve growth in the economy, the Government commissioned Ms Portas to conduct an independent review of the high street’s future.

As part of its response to her review, the Department for Communities and Local Government will be running Town Team pilots in England. It is encouraging local partnerships to come up with ideas of their own about how to make their town centre a social place that is also bustling with shops and services.

These groups need to submit an application form and supporting video by March 30.

Coun Brown said: “The Government is looking for leadership, innovation and commitment to the development of town high streets and we are currently working on our bid.

“It will include examples of when Morpeth organisations have worked together to benefit the community, such as the response to the 2008 floods and our Northumbria in Bloom success.

“This work will lead to an action plan, which we will produce even if we don’t get the funding. It will also feed into the Morpeth neighbourhood plan that will be drawn up in the next couple of years. And whatever form it takes, the public will be involved as their input will be very useful.”

The application will include ‘letters of commitment’ in support of the town centre from businesses across Morpeth and community groups.