Town centre needs a new vision, says Northampton BID chief, but it won't involve big brand names in the near future

Rob Purdie executive director of Northampton town centre Business Improvement District (BID) says we need to refocus our town centre's offerings.
Rob Purdie executive director of Northampton town centre Business Improvement District (BID) says we need to refocus our town centre's offerings.

Northampton Business Improvement District has told the Chronicle & Echo that the town needs to look at "leisure and experience" as an incentive for people to come into the town centre

In a bid to find a solution to Northampton town centre’s gloominess the Chron visited a market town in the north to see how they turned their ghost town into a boom town.

After Trafford Borough Council invested 3 million into the public realm transformation in Altrincham, which is the space open to anyone, the town saw new benches, street lighting, bins and former roads (pictured Central Way in 2013) became pedestrianised.

After Trafford Borough Council invested 3 million into the public realm transformation in Altrincham, which is the space open to anyone, the town saw new benches, street lighting, bins and former roads (pictured Central Way in 2013) became pedestrianised.

Altrincham shares a lot of parallels with Northampton. Namely how it has struggled with attracting footfall after the Trafford Centre opened – similar to the ongoing rivalry here between Northampton town centre and Rushden Lakes.

So the Chron asked Northampton's Business Improvement District what could be done to mirror Altrincham and make Northampton town centre more welcoming.

Rob Purdie, executive director of Northampton town centre Business Improvement District (BID), said focus now should be on food and entertainment, not big brand shops.

"In terms of incentives for new retailers the borough council does do something similar already, providing an investment for new retailers coming into the town centre of up to £10,000. But it is on a smaller scale and we do recognise the importance of supporting new and expanding businesses in our town centre.

300,000 of council cash has been invested to transform the Lower Market Place to provide new public space, lock up units and a market canopy. (Pictured Central Way in 2014).

300,000 of council cash has been invested to transform the Lower Market Place to provide new public space, lock up units and a market canopy. (Pictured Central Way in 2014).

"We also agree that we need to start focusing on a new vision for our town centre. It is unlikely we will be able, in the short term, to attract big brands into Northampton town centre but instead we need to be looking at leisure and experience as an incentive for people to come into the town centre – something echoed by Altrincham.

"At the BID’s recent town centre conference some positive announcements were made. The borough council has committed to investing in The Drapery - to tackle traffic flow and reduce the air pollution. Our town centre museum is undergoing a dramatic £7 million refit and there was a general agreement that we need to work together to promote Northampton’s shoe and boot heritage.

"So, yes it is all about developing and creating a new Northampton and delivering the elements that will ensure we are distinctive – in the way Altrincham has differentiated itself.”

Businesses are required to pay an additional tax to Northampton Business Improvement District (BID) in order to fund projects within the district's boundaries and provide extra services beyond the council.

He added: “These are challenging times for the town, particularly because of the imminent changes to our councils and the move towards two unitary authorities, and the only way real change is going to come about is by working together – with the councils, with the university and other organisations.

"This has started, but there is more to do and it is unclear where the funding will come from to make big infrastructure changes – so we need to explore new funding routes and work together to make sure we invest wisely and strategically.

"In terms of business support our BID has run some workshops focused on social media and other support but this is something we want to ramp up in 2019, with a business support academy being considered – a calendar of events that would offer retailers everything from customer service support, retail expertise, social media and PR training.

"This is something that has obviously worked well in Altrincham and is already something we have been looking at here."

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