Independent think tank on the cards for Northampton restaurateurs and independent retailers

Pictured at the meeting last week (from left-right): Leader of the Council Jonathon Nunn, Martin Mason, mayor of Northampton Tony Ansell, Andy Roberts business engagement and tourism development officer for NBC, Wes Suter and councillor Phil Larratt.
Pictured at the meeting last week (from left-right): Leader of the Council Jonathon Nunn, Martin Mason, mayor of Northampton Tony Ansell, Andy Roberts business engagement and tourism development officer for NBC, Wes Suter and councillor Phil Larratt.

A think tank will now be set up to encourage the council to improve the town centre's dining out and shopping scene, after a campaign by the Chron and jewellery shop, Steffans.

Irritated by negative comments and a lack of solutions, Steffans Jewellers’ Wes Suter last month came up with an idea to revive the town centre. Through his ‘put your best foot forward campaign’ Mr Suter is aiming to attract shoemakers into the town centre where he hopes they will open factory outlet shops.

One of the criticisms of the local authority by Mr Suter, and more recently Trickers boss Martin Mason, is more could be done by Northampton Borough Council to lure international tourists into the town centre after they’ve done their rounds of the famous shoe factories - but instead these shoppers just hop on a bus and leave.

During a meeting held last week at the Guildhall, Mr Suter, Trickers boss Martin Mason and council chiefs discussed ways to make Northampton's town centre a better place for visitors.

Mr Suter said Northampton Borough Council was "very receptive" to new ideas and said there were plans to set up a "think tank" where a body of town centre restaurateurs and shop owners could provide feedback to the council.

He said: "Obviously the future of retail is changing - there is a big, big focus on independents. The town recognises that it can't compete with Milton Keynes and, potentially, the new Rushden Lakes, in terms of multiples, but what they are going to focus on is independents and trying to entice some of these independents back into the town - and trying to entice those people to come back.

"Butchers and various other artisan trades [could] really make Northampton a centre of excellence for independent retail. That was encouraging to me because, obviously, we consider ourselves [Steffans Jewellers'] to be one of those."

Sheinmans Opticians, Thackerays and McManus Pub Co. would be good companies to get involved, he said.

Mr Suter added: "We are going to be creating a think tank that we can generate for the restaurants and the independent retailers that can be answerable to the council and we will be an independent body, which they've asked me to set up. We will have some of the independent business owners and some of the vested interest parties [on board too]."

A motion, proposed to Northampton Borough Council by Labour councillor Gareth Eales, won cross-party backing at full council on July 9 to open a shoe and leather goods outlet in the town centre that would promote Northampton’s ‘world class’ boot manufacturers'.

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