Middlesbrough town centre’s future as a shopping destination has received an eleventh-hour reprieve in the form of two exciting initiatives.
The projects come at a time when the town’s failure to secure city status in its recent bid has disappointed many locals; the first is a ‘Portas Pilot’ town bid and the second, a proposal to introduce a Business Improvement District (BID).
Councillor Charlie Rooney, Middlesbrough’s Executive Member for Regeneration, said: “Both the Portas Pilot and the BID have the potential to bring new ideas and approaches to our town centre.”
Mary Portas, a retail expert, was appointed last year by the Prime Minister and his Deputy to carry out an independent review on the future of UK high streets.
Her report ‘The Portas Review’ was published in December 2011. One of its recommendations was that a competition should be launched to encourage creative approaches to revitalising high streets.
Middlesbrough will go head to head with towns and cities across the UK for the change to be among the 12 Portas pilot towns to share a £1million regeneration pot.
It already has an excellent track record in creative ideas in the town centre, such as Corner Emporium and the We Are Open project; and the council is now putting its head together with retailers for fresh ideas.
The option of town centre markets, a community hub and a voluntary group of retailers/landlords/residents working together are all viable alternatives to traditional retail space.
Middlesbrough businesses with a rateable value of more than £10,000 will also be voting to introduce a BID. This initiative – already operating in over 110 major towns and cities in the UK – agrees on what improvements an area needs with implementation funded by a levy on business rates.
This investment would not only improve the area but also aid competition with out of town retail parks and nearby towns and cities.
Over 10% of shops in Middlesbrough are vacant. In 2010, just half of all retail spend was in the high street; by 2014 it will be less than 40%.
‘Change or die’; ironic and perhaps fitting that for the dinosaurs of retail, actual dinosaurs could be what is needed to rejuvenate interest in our declining town centres.