Suffolk/Essex: Towns set to receive boost for high streets

TOWNS across Suffolk and Essex will be awarded thousands of pounds to transform struggling high streets and give retailers a vital boost, it will be announced today.

The project will see the towns receive expert guidance from retail specialists and share ideas with similar shopping centres elsewhere in the country.

Following the Government-backed Mary Portas Pilot Towns initiative, this scheme is the latest attempt to rejuvenate high streets.

Those in Suffolk are Brandon, Felixstowe, Halesworth, Southwold, Stowmarket, Newmarket, Woodbridge, Sudbury, Ipswich and a joint bid from Saxmundham, Leiston, Aldeburgh.

In north Essex, Halstead, Harwich, Walton-on-the-Naze and Colchester will all be boosted.

Each town will receive �10,000 which will be used to set up ‘Town Teams’ – groups whose aim will be to promote and improve their town’s high street.

The scheme was introduced to support the towns which failed to win Portas Pilot money earlier in the year.

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Tony Hutchinson, chair of Stowmarket Town Centre Partnership said: “I think it’s going to do Stowmarket the world of good, it will increase the offer for Stowmarket shoppers. It’s been needed in Stowmarket, we do need to increase the footfall and increase sales for the future.”

He added the partnership would be working to develop their plans for how to use the money which would be announced early next year.

Lesley Pollard, the chair of Harwich and Dovercourt Partnership, said: “It can only be positive. It’s quite a lot of money, especially at the moment – it will go a fairly long way to make some improvements.

“It would have been very nice to get the big money but I’m not going to be sniffy about �10,000.”

One possible use for the money would be to re-invigorate part of Dovercourt railway station as a tourist information centre, she said.

Councillor David Bowman portfolio holder for economic development and tourism for Forest Heath District Council, said the money was “fantastic” news: “We will be consulting with the shopkeepers, it’s too early to say what exactly the money will be spent on.”

Options being looked at by the Brandon Town Team will be to provide funding for community transport to the town.

He said one idea for the money would be to “revamp” the town and encourage more people to visit.

MPs had to sign up their towns for the funding boost.

Therese Coffey, Suffolk Coastal MP said she was delighted the towns would get the cash boost: “Over 400 towns applied to be a Portas Pilot and the Government were determined that no town should be left behind so they encouraged bidders to re-apply to become Town Team Partners.

“I was pleased to support bids from Felixstowe, Woodbridge, Halesworth, Southwold and a joint bid from Saxmundham, Leiston and Aldeburgh,” she said.

Housing Minister, Mark Prisk will today say: “There’s a real hunger in town centres across the country for them to be revitalised and remain attractive places to visit. No one’s pretending that there’s a silver bullet for improving the performance of our town centres.”

Only last month Sir Stuart Rose, former executive chairman of retail giant Marks and Spencer, called parts of Ipswich “depressing” and said the town centre was a “barren wasteland” because of empty shops.

Lowestoft was the only town in Suffolk to be awarded the Portas Pilot money of up to �100,000 in July.

Braintree was also selected in the scheme’s second-round.