Thursday, 20 October 2011

Breathing new life into our town centres

Last year, I organised a conference to explore how we can revitalise and give a new sense of purpose to our towns and, this week, I attended a meeting in parliament of a group of like minded MPs who are all aiming to deliver the same results in their own areas.

There is a lot of exciting new work going on in this area. Hayle has had a long wait but might, at long last, be about to see a major restoration of the harbour area complete with new restaurants and a cinema. Camborne has been boosted by the arrival of Wetherspoons in the centre of town and a few weeks ago I met the Chinese owner of the Redruth Brewery site to see how we can kick start some activity there because it must be Redruth’s turn next. I would like to see the Cornish Records Office moved from Truro to Redruth where it belongs because it could be the catalyst for a new retail offering based on Cornwall’s heritage and culture.

The inexorable growth of out-of-town supermarkets has taken people away from our towns so, in future, let’s put them in the centre where they bring life in rather than outside where they drain life away. Secondly, high business rates have driven some small retailers out of business so let’s make it easier for new shops to open by giving them soft rates for the first year to get on their feet and let’s help struggling retailers by giving them discounts from their existing business rates.

Thirdly, we should not duck the fact that free car parking is a factor that can encourage people back into town. If you are going to Camborne to buy a pasty or get some photos developed, the high cost of car parking is enough to put you off. So I think we need to look at ways of funding free car parking for the first hour. It has worked well in other towns elsewhere in the country and where there is a will, there is a way. Finally, we need to do more to attract destination retailers to our towns which would raise the tide for all the other shops too. There is often a lack of suitable retail space but you only need one or two brand names to create some momentum.

The government has made a lot of these ideas possible because it is allowing Councils to keep all the rates on new commercial premises so the income retained from new industrial units at Pool and Treleigh could be ploughed back into schemes to kick start our town centres. But we need a plan to make it happen.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.