PLANS to develop a retail strategy aimed at reviving Hartlepool town centre have been backed by Mayor Stuart Drummond.
Senior officers at Hartlepool Borough Council say the town centre has been “severely affected” by the double dip recession with 21.8 per cent of commercial units currently empty.
Other factors including the lack of consumer spending power, competition from elsewhere and the growth of online shopping are also having an impact.
In a bid to help turn around the fortunes, Hartlepool was awarded £100,000 through the High Street Innovation Fund.
The council established a working group, currently developing a range of projects to increase the “footfall, diversity and vibrancy of the town centre”.
But officers say a long term vision is also needed to improve retail opportunities in Hartlepool.
They say that could be achieved through a Retail Revival Strategy, which would set out an action plan to improve the town centre, attract additional retailers and create a “retail offer” that attracts people to the town centre.
In a report Damien Wilson, assistant director (regeneration and planning), said: “The Retail Revival Strategy will identify the main issues within the town centre using research from retailers and consumers.
“Specialist retail market analysis will be undertaken to identify the key gaps in the town centre offer and how these can be addressed.
“The majority of the work could be completed in-house using existing resources, however specialist external input may be required which would have a cost implication.”
Mayor Drummond, who endorsed plans at his regeneration and neighbourhoods portfolio, said: “I certainly welcome this.
“It is a case of trying to solve millions of pounds worth of problems with £100,000.
“Sadly that will be the way of the world for the next few years.”
Meanwhile, one project being developed within the Market Hall at Middleton Grange Shopping Centre aims to provide the opportunity for people to start up their own retail business with a package of support.
Mr Wilson added: “The feasibility of holding specialist markets and events in the town centre is being investigated which will be aimed at attracting people to the town centre and making the most of underutilised public spaces.
“Additional town centre directional and location signage is also being developed for the town centre car parks.
“A range of other projects are also being examined.“
A further report is due in September.
Meanwhile, as previously reported, Hartlepool has missed out on becoming a Portas Pilot.
In total 15 town centres have been given extra cash for regeneration projects following a review by retail queen Mary Portas.
Known as “Portas Pilots” they will trial some of Portas’s recommendations and come up with new ideas.
But Hartlepool MP Iain Wright is one of 392 MPs, from the towns that were not chosen, to sign a national pledge to become a town team partner, which gives Hartlepool the opportunity to access a package of support worth £5.5m later this year.