Pledge to make the town better

MORPETH has missed out on a major amount of funding in a national high street scheme — but all is not lost.

The town was among the 371 applicants for the first round of the Government’s Portas Pilot competition, which was set up to help revitalise shopping districts across the UK.

Only 12 were successful, including Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, however the large response means that there will now be a further round of pilots which will be announced in July.

A newly-formed economic forum of partners, Morpeth Town Council, Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, the Greater Morpeth Development Trust (GMDT) and local businesses, had applied for £97,000 of Portas money to make the town even more attractive to shoppers, visitors and firms.

The bid included a video showing what it has to offer and identifying areas that could be improved, as well as details of innovative ideas and initiatives.

Coun Ken Brown, who led the bid on behalf of Morpeth Town Council, said: “We knew from the outset that the competition was going to be mighty tough and we must congratulate Newbiggin on its success.

“We believe we put forward a very good case for Morpeth and we will stand by that. Disappointed we might be but downcast we are certainly not.

“What has come out of the whole exercise is a spirit of partnership and determination among so many groups and people to work together for the good of Morpeth and that will go forward with or without Portas money.

“One of the criteria for success was the formation of town teams and through working together on the bid we have established one for Morpeth that can be developed into a blueprint for future retailing going forward.”

He added that the Morpeth bid would now be reviewed and revamped where necessary before being re-submitted as a second round entry.

Chamber of Trade Chairman John Beynon confirmed that an urgent meeting of the economic forum partners would now be called to continue the campaign.

“The spirit of partnership working together for the good of Morpeth has never been better or more pro-active,” he said.

“Morpeth is a great place to live, work and shop and we must not be downhearted by this announcement but use it as an incentive to further our determination to show people just what the town has to offer.”

The competition was established in the wake of a report by shopping guru Mary Portas into what she believed was needed to breathe new life into town centres.

Specific projects for the Morpeth bid included a loyalty card that could be used in shops across the town centre, a weekend park and ride scheme from County Hall to maximise car parking space, further development of the More in Morpeth brand and an initiative led by the existing Markets Partnership to run a range of different events, such as a Shopkeepers’ Market.

A mobile phone Morpeth app detailing the town’s heritage, attractions and walks, as well as businesses available in the town centre and special offers, and a Morpeth Mobile Showcase, which would take a taster of Morpeth shops out into the surrounding villages, were also mentioned.

GMDT Chief Executive David Lodge explained that over the next few months, the Town Team partners would continue working together on an on-going series of events to promote the town.

He said: “We’ve got a great summer coming up, starting with Morpeth Fair Day next week and continuing with the Olympic Torch Relay, entertainment in the Market Place, our Olympic Theme weekend coinciding with the start of the Games and Picnic in the Park.

“They will all combine to put Morpeth on the map as a visitor and shopping destination.”