Stockport and Nelson among Portas Pilots

Stockport and Nelson were the only North West towns in the dozen Portas Pilots announced in the first round of the much-hyped high street initiative between government and retail adviser Mary Portas at the weekend.

The 12 towns will each receive £100,000 to implement recommendations from the Portas review in December 2011 alongside their own ideas.

Nelson's bid was aimed at 'attracting local students with a young persons cafe, sports activities and a new art and vintage market.'

Stockport will use its £100,000 to 'realise the character and potential of the Markets and Underbanks area with a creative arts complex, outdoor screenings and a new parking strategy and street champions.'

Cllr Joe Cooney, leader of Pendle Council, said: "We're thrilled that Nelson is among the first 12 Portas Pilot towns, out of 370 towns that applied for the funding.

"Nelson has been chosen due to the strength of our bid, which focussed on our plans to tackle the numbers of empty shops in the town and involve more young people in their town centre."

The newly formed Nelson Town Team plans to use the funding to tackle the high numbers of empty shops and market stalls. They also have plans to address the lack of younger shoppers in the town. The Town Team will also use the funding to help local students and young entrepreneurs set up temporary businesses or displays in empty properties.

Nelson will also explore the feasibility of setting up a town centre café aimed at young people with free wi-fi and healthy food and giving them a place to work and socialise in the town centre.

Other ideas in Nelson include:

  • Morning bootcamps, lunchtime yoga, sport events and sport tuition introduced
  • Commission artists to work with young people from empty town centre shops/market stalls
  • Artists will be challenged to do projects which generate young person footfall in the town centre
  • Set up an art and vintage market in the town centre
  • Organise College 'Freshers' Week' activities in the town centre to form habits in year one students to use Nelson Town Centre.

Cllr Sue Derbyshire, leader of Stockport Council, said: "This is fantastic news for Stockport. It's a testament to the enthusiasm, commitment and inspiration of local businesses, market traders, organisations and residents, who worked with the council to make ours a winning bid.

"But this is only the start. Work establishing our new 'town team', made up of all the town centre partners, has already begun. They will work hard to get the best for the town centre, reduce the number of empty shops and develop an exciting new cultural quarter around our unique historic market area."

Mark Rawstron, senior director, national markets-investment for real estate advisors GVA and managing agent for Merseyway shopping centre in Stockport, said: "Although the amount of money that Stockport will receive is obviously not going to transform its high street, it will help with the cost of a strategy to do so. Stockport has much to offer with its 'hidden gem' historical quarter and areas of retail that can complement the work we're doing at Merseyway to improve the retail offer of the entire town.

"The success of Merseyway proves that an ongoing and targeted investment programme can deliver tangible results. The centre has bucked the regional and national trend for town centre shopping locations by securing and retaining tenants and attracting record numbers of visitors – more than 10m people visited Merseyway in 2011 and that upward trend has continued in 2012."

The other successful towns were Bedford, Croydon, Dartford, Great Bedminster, Stockton on Tees, Wolverhampton, Margate, Market Rasen, Newbiggin by the Sea and Liskeard.

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