Key to future could be making Morpeth a hub for tourism

MORPETH has been proposed as a key regional tourism hub to help develop the local economy.

The suggestion has come from the economic group working on the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan as one of its main objectives.

The group says that the town’s location could see it act as a hub to visitor attractions in Northumberland and Tyneside, building on its heritage attractions, retail offer, pubs, cafes and restaurants, and walking, cycling and picnicking opportunities.

However, there is currently no single large attraction for visitors and members say this should be developed, perhaps in the form of a heritage centre.

There are also suggestions for the development of both a budget and boutique hotel in the town, as well as more leisure facilities and food and drink businesses.

It is proposed that a tourism strategy should be developed, marketing the town to both day-trippers and longer-stay visitors, with the work devolved to a specific body, such as Morpeth Town Team.

However, the group says the town’s economic role should be primarily as a rural service centre and a vibrant town centre is crucial, A town-centre-first policy is supported, with a view that development of the retail area should be within current boundaries, rather than on out-of-town sites.

The Morpeth bypass could open up opportunities for a retail park at Fairmoor, but such a development could threaten the vitality of the town centre.

It is suggested that facilities such as the post office sorting depot, telephone exchange and leisure centre could move out of the town centre, freeing up space for more small-scale retail development and car parks. There could also be opportunities for more on-street parking when the bypass is constructed as it will relieve congestion.

It is considered vital that the character and distinctiveness of Morpeth should be retained, with independent, smaller stores most appropriate. The backs of shops could be used to create a double-front and courtyard developments in the many alleyways, while vacant premises along the riverbank near the library could be used for bars, restaurants, galleries, and a museum, with residential development above.

But any mixed use redevelopment would need to be appropriate in terms of scale, layout and design and should not have an adverse impact on amenity or heritage. Development that brings disused heritage assets into appropriate use would be supported.

Two sites already allocated for employment at Fairmoor could be retained as such, or become mixed use, as there is a general consensus from employers that other areas are reaching capacity.

There could also be scope for mixed-use development in and around the town, at sites such as the former registrar building in Newgate Street, the telephone exchange, Benfield, the police station, Court House, Cottage Hospital and the Willows. However, no detailed feasibility work has been done and it is considered unrealistic to allocate such sites in the Plan.

Pegswood could have scope for employment land next to the fire station and there are calls to expand its local service provision.

Options

l Make Morpeth a key hub in the region’s tourism economy.

l Provide a range of employment sites and business accommodation at Fairmoor and around Morpeth town centre to develop a more sustainable economy.

l Maintain Morpeth’s strong retail offer, with a mix of independent stores, national chains and a quality shopping environment.

l Develop Pegswood’s economy to make a more sustainable economy.

l Promote the growth and diversification of the rural economy.

l Develop larger-scale visitor attractions, as well as hotels, leisure facilities and food and drink businesses.

l Recognise Morpeth’s commercial potential due to its proximity to Tyneside and connectivity to south-east Northumberland.