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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

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Whitehaven's Portas bid - see the video

WHITEHAVEN has entered the running to become one of the Mary Portas pilot towns, with fingers firmly crossed for a successful outcome.

petition: Dianne Richardson with shoppers signing the petition


The bid was lodged with the Department for Communities and Local Government last Friday, but with around 350 other towns throughout England having similarly applied for just 12 places, competition will be tough.

Towns will find out in May whether they have been one of the chosen few and thus in line for a share of the £1million pot allocated to the scheme, which is aimed at tackling the problems of the country’s failing high streets. Whitehaven has asked for £100,000.

The bid, which focuses on King Street, has been compiled by a swiftly-put-together Town Team, and is the result of just a few weeks hard work – canvassing views, deciding on priorities, agreeing what was achievable and pulling in support from businesses, organisations and the local community. Around 4,400 names have been so far collected, over half of them in just one afternoon in King Street. The Whitehaven bid is accompanied by a short video which can be viewed on YouTube.

“We have been delighted and astounded by the support we have received from the local community. It has been truly inspiring and, whether or not we win a selection, we are all committed to carrying on with plans and ideas for taking Whitehaven forward,’’ said Shelley Williamson, of Strange Fruit, Market Place, who chairs the nine-member Town Team.

“The Portas Pilot bid has been a catalyst for change,’’ she added, “And we are now working towards a calendar of events and milestones to achieve. If we can put this bid together in just five weeks, under pressure, who knows what can be achieved given a longer timeframe and strategy. We wanted to create a high street that matches the personality of the people who live and work within it and not just an area that no one could afford to be part of, and that just stood empty.”

The Town Team wants people to still feed in their questions and opinions on the Facebook page and give comments on The Whitehaven News website and is keen to get young people involved too and hear their views.

“Whitehaven is on the brink of a change and we feel that a younger generation of older family businesses are coming up and are ready for that change,’’ said Shelley.

Ideas are being put forward to help enliven the street and make it a more fun and attractive place to be. Towards this an innovative Freshen-up Friday initiative is suggested, the first to be held on April 20, when shop keepers will be encouraged to clean and tidy the area in front of their premises. The gum-buster will be brought back into play and there will be buskers performing in King Street on Saturday, April 28.

The bid also suggests introducing kiosk-style stalls that would improve vitality and encourage fledgling businesses.

A more cyclist-friendly town is needed too, to capitalise on the thousands who come to town each year for the C2C with perhaps the introduction of a ‘passport’ scheme.

The Team’s bid also suggests a customer loyalty scheme and it wants to acquire a vacant shop to provide a base for the pilot project to incorporate a crèche where parents could leave their children for a short while, giving time to browse the shops and make their purchases.

There would be renewed lobbying for business rate relief and plans to improve local liaison with landlords

Meanwhile the government has announced its acceptance of virtually all the recommendations made by Mary Portas in her high street review last December and intends to go further with new incentives to rejuvenate high streets. It will be launching a further round of another 12 Portas Pilots next year in response to the massive interest.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps said a new Portas Plus package would include: a £10 million pound High Street Innovation Fund focused on bringing empty shops and high street properties back into use; a £1 million Future High Street X-Fund to be awarded in a year’s time to the locations which deliver the most creative and effective schemes to revitalise their high streets; a National Markets Day, launching a National Markets Fortnight, to celebrate the role markets can play.



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