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Rachel Anderson urges everyone to get behind their town centres


Catch up with Chamber assistant policy director, Rachel Anderson on the recent town centre report as published in the Northern Echo.

Whilst all our politicians went collectively bonkers and we and the rest of the world were treated to the most unedifying shambles on Brexit, the rest of the Country were quietly getting on with things.At the Chamber we did have one eye on Westminster but there are other things which affect businesses which require attention and we’ve been focusing on them.

The Chamber working with planning consultants Lichfields has been working on a report looking at our town centres in the North East, their issues and what steps might be taken to support businesses and put our town centres back as the key focus of civic pride with a thriving business community.

Following research in many town centres and talking to independent traders, multiples, occupiers of offices, land agents and local authorities, we have come up with a number of key recommendations.

Firstly, business support for retail businesses must be improved.Because of the rules around funding for businesses there is very little available for retail.New retail businesses do not get channelled to business support organisations or are not compelled to seek help and this is one of the reasons so many fail within a year.Better support tailored to a retail environment would help with business survival rates.

Second, Local Authorities and stakeholders must have a short, medium and long-term plan for the development and sustainability of town centres.The most successful Authorities already do, and plans provide a clear vision for how to develop and support the business base, increase footfall and open up the town centres as community spaces.It sounds obvious but following cuts to budgets often town centres have been left to their own devices and begun to suffer.

Third, a challenge to the businesses themselves.Town Centre businesses have some responsibility for footfall and making the town a success.This is not something that everybody else should do.Only by collaboration and engagement will town centres improve and too many initiatives fall by the wayside due to infighting.

Fourth, the public must decide whether they want a town centre and support it.Internet shopping is here to stay we know but most people say they want a vibrant town centre but don’t support it or, worse, actively undermine it through behaviour such as “showrooming”.The public needs to decide whether they want a town centre or not.

There are many other recommendations in the report which you can view here .We’ll be working to support town centres but will everyone else?