A new management group looking after Berwick’s remaining Portas funding has pledged to focus on the high street and market.
Its members are keen to make quick progress after a turbulent nine months in which the town team controversially had its lead Portas role removed.
Meetings have been held with Northumberland County Council, Berwick Town Council and the DCLG to discuss the best way forward.
Councillor John Robertson, chairman of the Portas management group, said: “No-one is in any doubt about the challenges facing Berwick town centre, but we are all determined to work together to make the best use of the Portas Pilot funds for the benefit of our town and community.
“We will be building on the successes so far, and welcome the support and practical advice of both the county council and DCLG to ensure the best possible outcome for Berwick.”
The new Portas management group sits within the town council and is made up of town councillors and representatives from the business community, the wider community and county council, which is the accountable body.
It will receive, consider and approve bids for funding from the Portas Pilot
Barry Rowland, executive director (place) at Northumberland County Council, said: “Portas is a valuable project which has the potential to have a very positive impact on Berwick.
“We are pleased to be working with the town council and the local community to progress delivery of schemes, and are confident the new governance arrangements are robust and inclusive, allowing the involvement of local people.
“We believe the scheme will result in positive change for the town and are fully committed to supporting it. We remain appreciative of the efforts of everyone who has played a role in the project so far, and thank them for their hard work.”
The pilot was established in 2012 when the town received £100,000 from the Government backed scheme, a sum matched by the county council.
One of the key aims of Portas is to rejuvenate town centres, and the partners at Berwick have agreed that there should be a focus on improving trading conditions as well as on the physical environment of Marygate, the town’s principle shopping street.
So far £70,000 has been invested in projects including a pop up shop, new ‘gateway’ signs at the station, improvements to the town’s market, the refurbishment of a former toilet to provide a new catering outlet, the reintroduction of boat trips on the River Tweed, a marketing campaign for this summer’s major Lowry exhibition and the restoration of the Lowry Trail.
The new management group will aim to speed up investment from the pilot – meaning that benefit from the funding will be seen in the town as soon as is possible.
Northumberland County Council is the accountable body for the Portas Pilot funding, and earlier this year Berwick Town Council assumed responsibility for managing the scheme in order to strengthen the governance arrangements and accelerate delivery.
The town council has been supported by Arch, the development company for Northumberland.
A senior officer from Northumberland County Council will support the work of the Portas Management Group.
Andrew Marshall, author of the winning Portas bid, said: “I welcome the fact Northumberland County Council is getting more directly involved with Berwick’s Portas Pilot.
“The only other thing I would like to see at this juncture is for Berwick Town Council to contribute some of its own financial reserves to the Portas project. It is the only tier of government that is yet to do so.
“I am optimistic Berwick will see continued benefit to the town centre as a result of our status as a national Portas Pilot and I wish the new Portas Management Group good luck.”