The future is looking rosy for Morpeth town centre, with footfall up, vacancy levels down and businesses confident about trading.
A new benchmarking study for the town has analysed nine key performance indicators, and while there are some issues of concern, the majority of them are showing overall positive results.
Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade Chairman George Williams said: “The first benchmarking exercise took place the year before last and there were things that came up about car parking that were a concern.
“We did get that changed, and last year the market was revamped thanks to Sanderson Arcade and the county council. Parking is now free and these things have made a big difference to the footfall.
“The report seems to imply that something good is happening.”
The review was carried out by Morpeth Town Team last autumn as a follow-up to a study by consultants in 2013.
It considered the number of commercial units, retail mix, key attractors, vacancy levels, footfall, parking provision, business confidence, shoppers’ experiences and shoppers’ origin.
The number of shops was steady at 58 per cent, down from 60 per cent in 2013, with 77 per cent of them selling comparison goods, on a par with the previous year. Retail theory suggests that a good comparison/convenience balance is anything over two thirds comparison.
There was a mix of key attractors, multiples and independent outlets, and the number of empty units had dropped from 9 per cent in 2013 to 6.5 per cent.
Overall, footfall was up on the year by 11 per cent on a market day and 66 per cent on a non-market day, but in Newgate Street and New Market it had fallen 26 per cent on market day. On a non-market day, the increase from 2013 was less than two per cent for New Market, but 64 per cent up for Newgate Street.
The report seems to imply that something good is happening.George Williams Chairman of Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade
Sanderson Arcade and Bridge Street recorded a footfall increase of 72 per cent on a market day and 103 per cent on a non-market day.
In a business confidence survey of 55 respondents there was a positive outlook.
In 2013 42 per cent of respondents said turnover had fallen on the previous year. In 2014, it was 22 per cent, and 40 per cent said turnover had increased.
Only 11 per cent thought it would fall in the next 12 months, 24 per cent believed it would stay the same, and 60 per cent expected a rise.
The most positive aspects of the town listed were potential local customers, physical appearance and car parking, with the most negative being internet competition, rental costs and out-of=town competition.
In a town centre users’ survey, all rated Morpeth’s appearance as good or very good. Suggested improvements were to attract specific national retailers, such as Wilkinson, Aldi or Next, and reduce the number of charity shops.
The findings are presented in a preliminary report. A final version, with full analysis and comparisons with other towns, is expected this spring.