High street leaders head into town

BUSINESS leaders across the north will be heading to Morpeth to share ideas on re-energising the high street.

Action for Market Towns will hold the conference later this month following similar successful initiatives last year.

The event, which is supported by Morpeth Town Council, is expected to attract around 50 delegates from the region to discuss recommendations from shopping adviser Mary Portas about how to breathe new life into town centres.

Morpeth was unsuccessful in its bid to secure £100,000 for regeneration as a Portas Pilot last year, but it was later awarded £10,000 through the project and a Town Team has been set up by key stakeholders to help deliver economic success.

The area has been asked to host the conference as an example of a premier modern market town.

Morpeth town councillor Ken Brown said: “Action for Market Towns has been running these workshops around the UK and Coun Graeme Trotter and I went to one in Harrogate last June.

“It was very good and it generated a few ideas which contributed to the formation of the Town Team and the way that we look at things.

“There were a lot of retailers there from the Harrogate area and we had a good opportunity to speak to them about issues that affect Harrogate, which are in many ways similar to those in Morpeth, like car parking charges and shop vacancy rates.

“It was quite clear that most of the audience thought that Morpeth was a great place and they aspired for Harrogate, for example, to be as good as Morpeth. The Action for Market Towns staff all said the same.

“Not long after that the opportunity came to host a similar event in Morpeth. The town council is subsidising the cost a little bit and people will be coming from all over the north.”

The conference is one of four organised around the country and will consider the common challenges faced by town centres, policies that support them, the importance of understanding a town’s offer and how to strengthen partnerships.

Delegates will discuss what they are doing to improve markets, run events and festivals or address problems of empty shops.

Morpeth councillors Andrew Tebbutt and Graeme Trotter will attend, along with Clerk Gillian Turner. A member of the Town Team from outside the council will also attend.

Coun Brown said: “This is a chance for delegates to look around Morpeth, but from the area the Town Team and the town council will have representatives there as well. I’m also hoping there will be a few Morpeth retailers there because I think they will learn quite a bit and generate some new ideas.

“It will definitely help the work of the Town Team.”

One of the local delegates will give a short presentation to the convention about Morpeth.

Coun Brown said: “One of the things I’m trying to persuade the Town Team to do is to get some real evidence of things like shop occupancy rates and car parking capacity because one of the weaknesses of our Portas bid was that we didn’t have the evidence for it. We didn’t have factual evidence, it was all anecdotal.

“This is the kind of thing that will be covered in the conference.”

The event will take place in Morpeth Town Hall on Tuesday, February 26. For further information visit www.towns.org.uk