Where we are now - the full story

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Times have changed and we are never going to get back the same town centre that we had 30 years ago. Shopping habits have changed and this has had a major impact on national chains, and therefore on high streets, across the country.

There is no point in trying to bring back a town centre that no-one wants. As a council we want to look to the future and figure out how we can evolve the town centre to meet the needs of residents and visitors in the 21st century.

We have to establish a new vision for the town centre and this is something we are currently working towards. With a clearly defined vision, based on in-depth research and evidence about what the market wants and could support, we can ensure there is a co-ordinated approach to the town centre so that any developments and projects brought forward are more likely to succeed.

We need to define what the offer should be and this could include more housing, more leisure, food and drink and more artisan, niche retailers.

While we don’t set the business rates and we don’t own many of the properties in the town centre, we have so much going on behind the scenes in terms of physical investment, policy, grants, business support, marketing and promotion.

Millions of pounds are currently being invested in a number of projects in the town, funded by both council and external grant funding that we have secured. This includes the Gateways project improving routes through the town, the £6.1million Enterprise Quarter project, made up of Tamworth Enterprise Centre - a thriving hub for small businesses - and the redevelopment of the Assembly Rooms. Future investments will include improvements to public space around the library and along Corporation Street and our recent purchase of the Gungate site.

With the latter, we are not going to rush into making the wrong decision. Whatever goes on that site has to be the right offer for the town centre and we will take the time to find out what that should be. We are seeing a return in investment on the Gungate purchase in the meantime as a result of the lease with NCP.

We are always looking to build on and improve our programme of events and activities and we put an extra £5,000 into the budget for that this year. These events, such as St George’s Day, the fireworks, Christmas Lights Switch On and this year's amazing Remembrance event, bring thousands of visitors into the town and we do work with businesses to encourage them to capitalise on this. We worked with a huge variety of businesses and community groups as part of our Mercian Mosaic and Aethelfest project this summer and this was extremely successful in raising the profile of the town.

We’ve found that businesses which take the initiative to open later, open on a Sunday, cross promote and link in with these events have benefited as a result.

Tamworth has some very successful, enterprising and award-winning businesses which demonstrate that you can succeed if you are creative and have ideas to bring to the table.

We also have funding available for small businesses and groups organising events that bring people to the town. We have recently funded businesses including Tamworth Brewing Company, the Tudor House Café, Jeffrey’s Fine Sandwiches and the Pit Stop café.

We also worked closely with the new Street Eats and Beats event in Tamworth this year after being approached by an enterprising individual with an idea. We provided grant funding and officer support to help turn this vision into a reality. We will work with those who have realistic and achievable ideas to boost the town centre and will help make it happen where possible. Even where something is out of our control, if people come to us, we can help facilitate a plan or proposal, give the advice that could help a landlord finally unlock a building, help someone bid for the growth funding they need to get to that next level, or advise on how to get a large-scale event off the ground.

There is so much going on behind the scenes; we are also just finalising a new Place Investment Strategy which will see us actively marketing the town to commercial investors and with this we hope to be able to start attracting more of the retailers and operators that the town needs.

The Government has just announced a £650m pot of funding specifically for town centres and we are also waiting to hear whether this is something we could tap into.

We are also developing a design guidance to set a higher standard for buildings in the town, as well as new development, and will be using that to see if we can work with landlords to improve some properties and frontages. At the same time, conservation grants are available to landlords to carry out the work needed to maintain the heritage of these key buildings.

Obviously we will always be constrained by national issues such as retail closures, business rates and changing shopping habits, but we need to focus on what we can do to ensure the town centre evolves in spite of that.

Constant negativity is not helpful. We want people to get on board, talk to us and bring ideas to the table. We want to hear from businesses, retailers, landlords, residents – and anyone who wants to engage and is motivated to bring about change.

Cllr Daniel Cook (Leader)