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Chamber's call for more town centre support


Rachel Anderson's column in the Journal

Now the dust has settled from the Election and it’s over all bar the Brexit Big Ben bong bust up (at least dry January means you can say that) then we are starting to see the first bright rays of light emerging from Westminster – and it’s not light reflecting of the new MP’s shiny satchels.Over the coming few weeks the new Government will be anxious to show voters they have some ideas and new policies will be unveiled.Most will be old policies which have had a spruce up and a repackaging, but MPs will be looking for something to get hold of to keep the momentum of the connection they made with voters during the campaign.

That is particularly true for the new Conservative MPs in the region.Being very much aware of the promises made to voters in the North and an anxiety to hold on to their newly gained seats.

One of the policies we can expect to see quite early is on towns or, more accurately, town centres.Prior to the election we had already had an announcement on the Future Towns Fund where up to £25 million was given to selected towns in a competitive process (oddly enough, there were many key marginals in the list of winners).The funding is designed to help Local Authorities re-purpose parts of their town centres and in some cases fundamentally reshape them as retail patterns change.

Fundamentally, the money is designed to make town centres places where people are again.Sounds daft doesn’t it?When so many reasons for people to congregate in town centres have been eroded, online shopping, shift of services to the outskirts, business parks, purpose built residential developments, it means retail and leisure are the last reasons for town centres to be and in many cases, it’s just not enough.So, what’s to be done?Well the money means land uses can change to make office developments viable, town centre living will be a thing again and, stop me if this is a crazy notion, but services such as health and education could be delivered where, wait for it - buses actually go. It will take more than £25 million in many towns, but the idea is to kick start something.

It’s not a panacea, it will take time but we have let down our town centres through policy and planning decisions for too long and it’s time to help them out again.