Surveys reveal highs and lows of town trade

Surveys have been carried out to assess how well Morpeth is performing.

The benchmarking exercise took place last autumn after it was commissioned by Morpeth Town Team with funding from Northumberland County Council.

The Action for Market Towns study looked at 12 indicators, such as parking, footfall and shop vacancies, to compare with centres regionally and nationally.

Now the results have been released.

Footfall figures for Morpeth were slightly below the average for North East small towns, but above the national figure, with the busiest area outside Sanderson Arcade. The T&G Allan alleyway footfall was also high on market days, but almost halved on non-market days.

Visitors were far more positive about the town’s physical appearance and shops than regionally or nationally, with 95 per cent of the 122 people questioned saying Morpeth’s appearance was good or very good. Access to services, ease of walking around and convenience also rated highly.

The survey was done before free parking was introduced and parking was the main negative aspect raised, followed by leisure facilities and cultural activities. Parking vacancy levels also suggested pricing and provision was incorrect.

Morpeth retail rents were high at £41 per sq ft, compared to £28 for the North East and £27 nationally.

There was a higher than average percentage of ‘key attractor’ outlets, such as Marks and Spencer, and more multiple traders, but less independent and regional shops.

Nine per cent of units were vacant, on a par with the regional figure, but one per cent higher than the national average.

More businesses reported a fall in turnover over the year than regionally or nationally. There was also more pessimism for the future, but 56 per cent of business respondents said Morpeth’s prosperity was positive.

Town Team member Ken Brown said: “Overall, this report is a good first step, but we want to do more.

“There have been quite a few changes since this was done. We have revamped the market and taken away parking charges, which clearly has made a difference.

“If we keep doing these exercises, they will help us to make the correct decisions.

“We want to start a training scheme so that it is cheaper to obtain the information and we will look to get volunteers from the town council, the chamber of trade, the Neighbourhood Plan group and possibly the high school.

“Overall, I think the report shows that Morpeth is doing a lot of things right.”