Council hits back at critics of town

TOWN councillors have hit back at criticism of Morpeth’s retail offer, saying it continues to outperform the national average.

The issue was raised at a meeting of Morpeth Town Council’s Planning and Transport Committee after it was passed a letter from a resident complaining about the lack of shops and services available.

The writer said that he often has to go to neighbouring areas to suit his needs.

But Coun Nic Best said that retail in Morpeth is healthy compared to other parts of the country.

He said: “I have received information about a survey of high streets up and down the country and it says that the average high street has 19 per cent vacant shops. We have got somewhere in the region of seven per cent in Morpeth. The average spend nationally is at about 2002 levels.

“On both of these indicators Morpeth is doing way better than average, but I don’t think some people in Morpeth realise that.”

Coun David Parker said: “When I was a Castle Morpeth Borough councillor we worked closely with Mark Dransfield, particularly on Sanderson Arcade, because it was recognised that Morpeth at that time was lacking in some part of the shopping offer across the board. We were convinced that the Sanderson Arcade filled those gaps.

“That is not to say that any individual person is going to feel that Morpeth provides everything they want. I am a bit surprised by the points this person is making, but he does say he is willing to talk about it. If there are any gaps of the things suggested hopefully they will be filled in due course.”

Coun Parker also questioned why Northumberland County Council had sent the letter on to the town council to address when the unitary authority has a remit for economic regeneration.

Coun Ken Brown said the complaint may refer to a lack of services available at weekends and suggested it be referred to the town’s Economic Development Forum as the group will soon carry out a benchmarking exercise into the services and retail offer.

The letter has also been sent to the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade.

Chairman John Beynon said: “We were surprised by the letter. Morpeth has a great mix of independent and national retailers and talking to other chambers and other business people around the country Morpeth is bucking the trend and is doing a lot better than a lot of other towns, both in this area and nationally.

“At the moment there does seem to be a few empty shops, but quite a few of those are already spoken for and there is generally a quick turnover of empty properties in Morpeth.”