Regular readers of the Morpeth Herald will not be surprised to learn that our company is vehemently opposed to the proposals for a retail development on the outskirts of Morpeth.
It is my belief that this is, without doubt, the single biggest threat that the town centre has faced in recent years.
I have worked in the retail property industry for nearly 30 years across the UK and I am yet to come across a single town centre or community which has been positively impacted by out-of-town retailing.
Our town centres are the heart of our communities, not just the commercial heart, but the places where people meet and which they take a pride in.
In the case of Morpeth, the town centre we see today is the result of years of hard work, investment and community engagement.
In making the decision that the politicians will have before them when they look at this out-of-town application, I would respectfully ask them to think and reflect on what has been achieved in Morpeth in the last decade, and how that hard work could so easily be undone by the wrong decision.
In 2006 our company identified Morpeth as a town which needed investment and did not have any out-of-town retail. Over the last 11 years we have invested a total of £36.53million into the town. That investment has created more than 500 retail, restaurant and office jobs.
In 2013 we set up a working arrangement with Northumberland County Council to manage the markets in Morpeth, which has revived the fortunes of the market and driven footfall into our town centre.
Our team at Sanderson Arcade has been instrumental in organising regular events in Morpeth, working with many interest groups, and together we have delivered the annual Food and Drink Festival.
All this is achieved through partnership working with Morpeth’s many active stakeholder groups.
We have also worked tirelessly with the local authority to defend Morpeth against previous out-of-town retail applications, successfully winning battles against Focus DIY, Homebase, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, whilst ensuring that new retail floorspace is provided in the town centre — most recently with our investment to convert the former Safeway/Morrisons to three new retail units.
Please do not think that our objection is based on an objection of fear of competition. We welcome more investment into Morpeth.
But new investment needs to be in the right place, where it can further strengthen and add to the town centre mix, not in a location where it will mean that over a quarter of the spending currently made in town centre food stores is lost out of town, and jeopardise many jobs.
Developing in a town centre is never the easy option. It takes years of perseverance and partnership working. I am proud of the working relationships that we have forged with the people of Morpeth. The town has a strong voice and conviction.
It will be a shocking mistake if this authority approves an out-of-town scheme against the backdrop of all that good work that has been achieved in the last 11 years, and I, for one, fear for the future of the town centre if the wrong decision is taken.