TURNING our high streets into destinations that offer more than just shops is part of a long-term strategy to ensure a successful future for our towns.

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Nationally, there is major concern for the future of traditional high streets, following the collapse of a number of major retailers, such as HMV, and footfall plummeting by an average of 30 per cent between November 2006 and November of last year.

The picture in Huntingdonshire is not so bleak – the average fall over that period was about four per cent. These figures are reasonably good reading for most towns, with the exception of St Neots.

A survey commissioned by Huntingdonshire District Council shows increases in Ramsey (0.2 per cent) on its 2006 figure and in St Ives – a large jump of 19.5 per cent. The guided bus is delivering.

Huntingdon’s count was down 6.4 per cent on 2006, but the town has taken action to look at its future – Huntingdon BID started last year and is tasked with promoting and improving the town centre and has a significantly larger budget than afforded to the former town partnership.

However, St Neots has not fared as well over the six years – the town has seen a 20 per cent reduction in footfall.

But it is not all doom and gloom in the county’s largest town.

Work has started on a new cinema and restaurant complex, there is £10,000 of Portas money to invest, and HDC is trying to bring businesses together to plan for the medium to long term.

“We know we need to focus our attention on St Neots,” said Sue Bedlow, economic development manager at HDC. “There is the Portas Pilot money and we will be working with the town council to get a town team up and running.”

The town team is new, with the first meeting scheduled for February 19. All town centre business will be invited to get involved and decide how to spend the £10,000 and look to the longer term.

But this will not be purely about shops and attracting retailers, Mrs Bedlow said.

“The cinema will be a big positive for the town and will be the start of the physical changes that need to take place. There needs to be a physical regeneration to provide the right type of units for businesses such as restaurants.”

One crucial area for the town’s redevelopment is the riverside but enhancement to this area of the town would need physical restructure.

St Neots town centre manager Katie Williams said: “The results of the latest count prove how crucial it is for the town centre stakeholders to work in partnership as a town team to deliver creative, innovative projects to encourage more visitors to our high street.

“In these times we must think outside the box to draw people in and promote what makes our town unique to compete with other centres.”

Jane Bowd, St Ives town centre manager, put the town’s success down to the guided bus, and regular markets amongst other factors. “It is brilliant news and I am very pleased that we are going against the flow,” she said.

“We have put in a lot of hard work over the years to promote the town and it’s clear that it is working.

“Our town is not a clone town and maintains its character and its identity which is appealing, as well as the events, like the Jubilee and Olympic Torch last year, that are put on to encourage more people into the centre who then realise what St Ives has to offer.”

Katy Sismore, of BID Huntingdon, said: “These figures can be quite crude but are a good benchmark, however we look at other key indicators such as vacant units which have remained steady and there are five under offer currently.

“I am also heartened that the number of people in our town is double those in St Ives and St Neots.”

Susan Normington, spokesman for the Ramsey Initiative, was delighted that the North Huntingdonshire town also bucked the national trend and said the Initiative planned on bringing the Tuesday market back into the town to boost numbers.

INFORMATION: To express your interest town team meeting call 01480 388912 or e-mail katie.williams@stneots-tc.gov.uk

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