Group aims to stop town centre ‘rot’

Harrogate town centre businesses could be given a collective voice under plans for a new organisation.

Provisionally called the Town Centre Development Group, the proposed volunteer-led body would look after the needs of independent traders by campaigning on issues, developing and protecting the trading environment, and promoting the town centre on a local, regional and national stage.

The idea for the group has come from Peter Jesper, the managing director of the town centre business, Jespers, who said there was currently no retailers forum or critical mass of independent stakeholders. The group would ideally include representatives from all town centre business sectors including independent and national retailers, the hospitality sector, residents, professionals and other service providers.

Peter said Harrogate town centre was a significant area of employment but, as in the rest of the UK, current trading for all high street retailers was challenging.

“Independents are a key characteristic of the town centre and many are having their viability seriously threatened,” he said.

“There are more empty spaces appearing in town week by week and we need to try and stop the rot.”

Peter outlined his plans to about 35 representatives of local businesses, primarily town centre retailers, at a meeting on Wednesday last week, and said the response had been “very positive”.

He is now inviting opinion and feedback from all sectors of town centre business. He then intends to hold a meeting on September 5 to form a committee and identify key issues which the group could address.

“I’m sure that there are a lot of opinions out there and my aim is to gather, co-ordinate and act as part of a motivated team of volunteers campaigning to preserve the health of our town centre,” he said.

“My hope is that I’ll now get some or all of the following: Constructive feedback relating to issues faced by town centre businesses experiencing similar trading challenges, volunteers to be ‘street champions’ throughout the town, and a dedicated committee of interested parties to canvass opinion, and help identify and prioritise town centre issues for appropriate action.”

Peter is vice president of the Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce but said the chamber had a very small representation from town centre businesses, although it was likely the new group would come under the umbrella of the Harrogate chamber.

The group would possibly have a managing committee and issue-specific sub groups.

“It’s all about having a voice and I hope that my personal ideas and views will help to form a critical mass of traders who can develop ideas,” he said.

Aims for the group include using it to communicate with the key stakeholders in the town, as well as linking with other established groups such as Harrogate at Christmas and Destination Harrogate.

It could also have a voice on key town centre issues, such as the Parliament Street proposals, the Tesco planning application, the bus/rail interchange and retail development, parking charges, the Park & Ride scheme and the A61 re-routing proposals.

The group could also campaign on issues such as poor public toilet and baby changing facilities, and co-ordinated signage to guide visitors around the town to key areas and points of interest.

Ideas for consideration could include free parking after 3pm for the school run, a shopper’s A-Z of Harrogate, a ‘Buy Local’ campaign and a co-ordinated calendar of street entertainment.

l If you have any comments on the formation of a Town Centre Development Group or on town centre issues that could be addressed, please contact Peter Jesper by the end of July on 01423 877932 or by emailing peter.jesper@jespers.co.uk.