Councillors join the battle for business

TOWN councillors have joined the fight to keep Morpeth in business.

Members of Morpeth Town Council say it is vital they are part of the partnership promoting the Open for Business campaign during the disruption from town centre roadworks. And they have committed £500 to the cause.

The council now joins Dransfield Properties and Northumbrian Water, which have each committed the same amount, and the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, which is leading the campaign with a £2,000 funding pot.

Coun Andrew Tebbutt said: “I think we ought to remember council discussions that we had recently about our leadership role.

“It seems to me that if there are various organisations in the town who want to try to do something to benefit the town’s economy, which is what this seems to be, I think it would be short-sighted of us if we didn’t participate fully.

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“If that involves putting some money up to enable that to happen we should do it.

“To ignore this when everybody wants to come together to do something about Morpeth, and for us not to do something which ought to be our leadership role, would be a very retrograde step.”

The funding was unanimously approved at a meeting of the council’s Finance and General Purposes Committee last Wednesday.

Coun Les Cassie said: “It is an unusual situation in the town. The roadworks are there and happening and are going to be there for a bit longer. I think the town council should do whatever is possible to communicate to the public that Morpeth is a place to come to shop and I’m delighted if we are doing it in collaboration. I think the town council should be part of that.”

Coun Ken Brown agreed, but said he would have liked action to have come sooner.

He said: “I think that even if the roadworks end tomorrow the challenge for the traders will be that shopping habits have been broken and there is going to be quite a bit of recovery time after the roadworks have gone.

“I would like to see us making a contribution here. The only concern I have got is that this problem arose a couple of weeks ago and as a council we need to be able to respond to these things a lot more quickly than we have done because of our committee structure.”

Other members suggested that delegating powers to chairmen and the town clerk may help in the future.

The money will be used to fund various promotional activities and the council will join an economic development forum for the town.

Councillors said they have still not received an update from the county council about suggestions to improve the trading situation during the works, or figures showing whether car park usage has declined, which could indicate a need for free parking periods.

Coun Nic Best said: “I’m more concerned about the lack of response.

“The strategic highways people have been very responsive and reacted to things very quickly indeed, but the car parking status I don’t know about. At the Farmers’ Market the town was very busy.

“One thing the county council could have done very quickly off its own bat is set up a park and ride scheme and I’m disappointed that it hasn’t seen fit to do that. Several people have made that point, but the council hasn’t acted on it.”

Committee Chairman David Parker said there was some good news in recent occupancy figures for retail outlets, with Morpeth faring far better than most towns in the country.

But Coun Derek Thompson warned that things can quickly change.

“I don’t think we ought to be complacent on this issue,” he said.

“I’m very familiar with Cockermouth in Cumbria and it used to be a lovely town, but now it is completely blighted with the closure of smaller shops, and that can happen anywhere.”