Budget hope for town centres

Traders hope Budget measures could help town centres like Alnwick.
Traders hope Budget measures could help town centres like Alnwick.

Budget measures to help breathe fresh life into high streets have been welcomed in Alnwick and Amble.

Among the plans laid out by Chancellor Philip Hammond last week was the introduction of a £675million Future High Street Fund, aimed at transforming community high streets into community assets fit for the 21st century.

Business rates will also be reduced by one-third for retail properties with a rateable value of below £51,000.

Carlo Biagioni, chairman of Alnwick Chamber of Trade, welcomed both measures, adding: “I really do hope we will get some benefits for our own town. The Budget offered a glimmer of hope for small businesses, however we will need to check the details of the proposals.”

Lisa Aynsley, owner of Alnwick menswear shop Hotspur 1364, said: “I welcome whole heartedly the Government funding to help transform our high streets, although I’m highly sceptical that those of us on the front line in the North East will see very much of the money.

“The business rate reduction is excellent but not enough. My business expansion is thwarted immediately as I could not afford even the reduced business rates I’d incur by moving to a bigger premises.

“But with that said, all help and investment must be gripped with both hands and maximised. High street and independent retail has never been tougher and there needs to be massive action in order to protect it, and that action needs to be self-motivated as well as Government funded.”

Coun Gordon Castle, county councillor for Alnwick, said: “I’m very pleased about the business rate reduction for small properties and expect this will go down very well. Business rates rather than rents tend to be the overhead most complained about.

“High streets are going through a tough time mainly as a result of online shopping. Alnwick is fortunate in being a tourist destination with three major tourist attractions and shops have needed to adapt to this reality.”

Alnwick Town Council believes the way town centres need to attract custom has changed; consumers now want an ‘experience’ of town centre shopping with centres providing convenience, a sense of community, meeting and socialising places, attractions unique to that centre and services not offered online. 

Mayor Alan Symmonds said: “Despite being an attractive town, Alnwick has suffered like anywhere else from the impact of online shopping and measures to tackle the impact of this are welcome.

“Alnwick Town Council will look to work closely with the Chamber of Trade and other agencies to maximise the benefits offered in the Budget. Indeed we have for some time been working on several of the measures, so we feel we are well placed to progress these.”

The Budget announcements were also welcomed in Amble.

Julia Aston, director of Amble Development Trust, said: “The announcement of funding for high streets is welcome, however we require more detail as to what is involved and what the funding is expected to achieve.

“In his statement Mr Hammond said it could be used to invest in any improvements, support development of empty or under–used retail and office space and develop strategies to ‘deliver much-needed footfall to high street businesses’.

“As with any document the devil is in the detail, which we look forward to receiving.

“In Amble we have a plan of how our high street could be revitalised, but at the time of that planning discussion there was no money allocated to fulfil the plan, this fund could present just that opportunity.”