Positive approach is key to helping town businesses

Alnwick Town Centre
Alnwick Town Centre

Optimism and looking for positive solutions to improve aspects of the town are the key to helping businesses in Alnwick, a meeting has heard.

The conference held last week between representatives of the town’s chamber of trade and county councillors tried to look at actions to try to help promote the town.

It followed concerns raised by chamber chairman Carlo Biagioni about the struggles for traders in the current economic climate and was designed to look at ways the council could support them or create a better environment for business.

Mr Biagioni said it was a ‘very postive’ meeting.

And Alnwick’s ward councillor Gordon Castle said: “We don’t want to do the town down because it frightens off investors and people who want to bring businesses to the town. It wouldn’t just be a mistake, it would be wrong.

“We have got to make the best of what we’ve got and promote it the best that we can.

“The council needs to do its best to maintain the town within what it can afford.”

And on this note, Mr Biagioni was encouraged by news of the work to start on road resurfacing in the town centre after Easter and the works taking place to repair the pavements on Bondgate Without.

Further issues that need work include the state of the public toilets at both Greenwell Lane and The Shambles, as well as signage for links to the centre of Alnwick from the car parks on Greenwell Lane.

Coach parking was also raised as a concern due to the charges levied in the town. Mr Biagioni said: “It is ludicrous to bite the hand that feeds us.”

And despite a Gazette report pointing out a number of empty (not necessarily closed) shops in the town, data provided by the leader of the county council shows that among the larger towns in Northumberland, Alnwick has the lowest percentage of vacant shops.

It suggests that of 153 shops in the town centre, only four are vacant – 2.61 per cent. In Morpeth, it is slightly higher at 3.12 per cent.

The worst towns for vacant shops are Berwick, Ashington and Cramlington, which all have vacancy rates of above 10 per cent.

“Many people might say that’s not the only measure of prosperity,” said Coun Castle. “But Alnwick has the lowest percentage of empty shops of any town in Northumberland.

“Trading conditions are tight across the board, I don’t want to be complacent, but Alnwick’s situation isn’t worse than anyone else’s.

“It’s actually doing better because of its tourist attractions.”

Caroline Stewart, owner of Castle Quarter-based Bari Tea, agreed that the town should concentrate on the positives.

She said that the focus should be on driving footfall both into Alnwick and then around the town.

“It’s about getting them here and helping them around the town once they’re here,” she said.

“We have got a strong community here and we do help each other. We are better than most towns, but we can always do better.”