Halstead/Witham: £40k study hopes to revive town centres

Halstead High Street

Halstead High Street

A MAJOR feasibility study has been launched to revive the fortunes of two market towns in north Essex.

Braintree District Council is paying GVA, a consultancy firm, £40,000 to investigate how Halstead and Witham can attract more visitors to their town centres.

Over the coming months GVA will be working with stakeholders in the two towns, including the Witham and Halstead Town Teams and the town councils, to develop proposals and prepare an action plan. It is expected the study will be completed in June.

The project is part of Braintree District Council’s four-year ‘Backing Our Towns’ programme, which was launched in 2011 with the intention of raising the quality and profile of town high streets in its catchment area.

The council’s cabinet member for prosperity and growth, Chris Siddall, said a similar study focusing on Braintree has already taken place.

He said: “We are improving Braintree and have pledged to roll out the same improvements to Witham and Halstead.

“The Braintree study looked at factors like traffic flows and improving gateways into the town. Each of the three market towns in north Essex has its own individual situation in terms of traffic and layout – it’s not one size fits all – but there is good practice we can apply across the board.”

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In the past year, Braintree has also received an additional boost by receiving £86,000 from the Portas Pilot initiative and Mr Siddall says there are lessons learnt from othe successful towns across the country that can be adopted in Essex.

He added: “We have been in contact with other Portas Pilot towns and learnt from what they are doing. One thing we have learnt from the Portas Pilot initiative is that the best approach is to get buy-in from everybody in the town, such as councillors, retailers and local organisations.

“Another thing that has come across loud and clear is that it is not just about attracting big retailers to your town centre. In a lot of cases that isn’t going to happen, as many are reducing their high street presence as they move some of their operation online.”

Mr Siddall said town-wide street events to tie-in with holidays like Christmas and Easter had gone well, while moves to reduce car parking fees after 3pm had also resulted in more people coming into Braintree.

In Halstead, the chairman of the chamber of trade and commerce, Anne-Maree Robertson, welcomed the study.

She said: “We do need to re-energise our high street and give it a new guise for the 21st Century. It’s been on the wane for a while and needs a makeover.

“There are empty units and one thing I’d like looked at is some kind of fairness system.

“New businesses opening shops should get help with the burden of high rents and rates, which are holding them back.”

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