Retail chiefs welcome chance to tackle 'significant issues' facing Hartlepool town centre
Officials have welcomed news that Hartlepool is to be included in a government pilot project aimed at boosting the high street.
The Government recently announced that Hartlepool is one of 14 areas nationwide that is to receive “tailored expert support” from its new High Street Task Force.
Run by the Institute for Place Management it will see the town benefit from advice, training and information gathering to help identify how the town centre can adapt and thrive.
Outside experts are expected to work with the likes of Hartlepool Borough Council and Middleton Grange shopping centre to share expertise and come up with ideas for improvement including what has worked in other parts of the country.
The council says it is still early, but hopes the project will help address the increase in empty premises and drop in footfall seen in recent years.
And a retail expert said Hartlepool will be in a better position to secure funding from the Government’s £1 billion Future High Streets Fund.
A Hartlepool Borough Council spokesperson said: “Hartlepool town centre, like many others across the UK, faces a number of significant challenges, so any initiative that helps us to bring about its revitalisation is to be welcomed.
“This announcement follows the council’s unsuccessful bid for funding to the Future High Streets Fund last year, so we are pleased that the Government is now offering to support us in addressing the issues we face, including an increase in the number of empty premises and reduced customer footfall as a result of changing shopping trends.
“We are currently awaiting a date for the first visit of High Streets Task Force representatives to the town, and as soon as this is confirmed we look forward to engaging with them in a positive and constructive way to maximise any potential benefits.”
Mark Rycraft, manager of Middleton Grange, said the project is a fantastic opportunity heading into a new decade.
He said: “As the centre manager of Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, which is very much at the heart of the local community, I look forward to supporting this incredible project and having the opportunity to work collaboratively as a town to realise an exciting, new vision for Hartlepool.
“As part of the initiative, I would like to see long-term sustainable initiatives implemented, such as improved wayfinding, with investment into electronic parking and wayfinding systems as well as parking systems that provide a more convenient, reliable and flexible solution for both businesses and users.
“The implementation of contactless payment across the town would also be something I would fully endorse.”
Graham Soult, a North East-based retail consultant and high street ‘champion’, said the task force is likely to look at how to capitalise on Hartlepool’s heritage and could look at opening up the street scene around Middleton Grange.
He said: “What Hartlepool will get is some of the brightest and most experienced high street experts coming into the town and working with people in the council and shopping centre and whoever else sharing expertise and ideas.
“The towns that are really switched on and plugged in where all the different stakeholders are talking together are the ones that are doing well.”