Town centre regeneration ideas discussed
Ways of regenerating Berwick’s struggling high street were discussed at the town’s civic society meeting.
The discussion was led by guest speaker Stephen Scott, secretary of Berwick Chamber of Trade.
It was a particularly opportune time to discuss this given the problems of town centres across the country and the Government’s High Street funding initiative.
Tony Kirsop, community regeneration officer at Northumberland County Council, also attended and explained that the local authority was only able to put forward a bid for one place in Northumberland for this funding.
He revealed that shop occupancy rates in Berwick and elsewhere in Northumberland are higher than in many other places which was good news in one sense but may put it at a disadvantage against other places it would be competing against for this funding.
He also emphasised that the government is looking at ideas that are not focused on retail, given the changing ways we shop with pressures from out-of-town retail parks and the internet.
There was agreement that absentee landlords are a problem and questions were asked about whether the local authority had powers to apply a premium to business rates when properties are empty for a prolonged period of time. It was pointed out that any plans for the town centre needed to take into account that average wages in Berwick are very low.
Other ideas included: A Centre/Museum of Light to utilise empty retail space and create something unique; use of space to help promote and celebrate food heritage; a shuttle bus service or park-and-ride to bring visitors from the out-of-centre retail parks; an indoor/all-weather market using shared space/costs, with the butter market under the town hall suggested as an ideal location; removing the ‘modern’ unit currently occupied by Sports Direct and Santander to open up the square between there and the Maltings, creating a gallery to promote local artisans.
Pedestrianisation of Marygate was another idea with a show of hands suggesting around half of the audience was happy to consider the idea.
The issue of the shortage of accommodation in the town, especially at certain times of the year and when big events are on, was raised although it was acknowledged that the new Premier Inn would help alleviate this.
Also mentioned was the problems of traffic flow from north and around the entrance to Castlegate car park creating a bottleneck.
Stephen Scott also spoke of the need to get more urgency and drive behind the Heritage Hub idea for the Berwick Barracks to create a major attraction for the Town