High street in urgent need of help

Councillors have called for Berwick's ailing high street to be given an urgent makeover while acknowledging there are deeper issues to resolve.

Friday, 25th May 2018, 08:05 am
Updated Wednesday, 23rd May 2018, 09:11 am
Berwick town centre.

There are currently 15 empty shops or units to let on Marygate, with seemingly more and more closures by the month.

“We all know the town centre is in a state,” Coun Georgina Hill told members of the Berwick Regeneration Commission (BRC) at its meeting on Tuesday.

“The first problem is the look of it. It’s an embarrassment. People come into the town centre and see an eyesore yet they only have to walk two minutes to see the most spectacular views.”

She was particularly scathing about the twice weekly charter market.

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“It could be an asset but it doesn’t do anything for the town centre as it is,” she said.

High rates and rents, absentee landlords, parking, out of town supermarkets, retail parks and the growth of online shopping are all seen as factors in its decline.

It is a picture mirrored on many high streets across the country.

Coun Catherine Seymour noted: “Some of our streets like Bridge Street are doing very well where many of the premises are owned by the shopkeepers.

“On Marygate, I believe only Burtons and Boots are owned by the retailer. The others are leaseholders paying rent to landlords, some owned by pension funds.”

Coun Richard Wearmouth, Arch chairman, said it was important to have evidence to back up perceived problems.

“A health check of the town would enable us to identify key indicators such as lack of footfall,” he said.

“We need to know what people come into the town for and what they go elsewhere for. You can say that it’s linked to parking but until you have asked people you don’t know for sure.”

He said there might be an opportunity to engage with property owners to find out why they do not invest in their buildings.

But Coun Robert Bruce said these were many issues the council had no control over.

Instead, he said more efforts should be put into cleaning up the town centre, saying the area around the town hall was particularly dirty.

“It’s absolutely filthy,” he said. “The streets are covered in chewing gum.”

Members were keen that the BRC plays a role in trying to find a solution.