INDEPENDENT shops form a "critical part" of Huntingdon and its character, according to the town centre manager. "The only way to maintain a town with individual character is by holding on to the independents," Emma Thornton said. "It is a challenge for independents in a competitive town centre, but this group of businesses is very much a critical part of the focus of the Town Centre Partnership." She said businesses closed for different reasons. "Each case is individual and recent closures have been down to staffing issues and business strategy for some shops," said Mrs Thornton. "Obviously, we are very sorry they have made the decision to move on, but the range of independents in Chequers Court, and the fact that they are opening up new shops in prime areas, highlights how the town is developing. "As the Town Centre Partnership is a membership organisation and not a statutory provision, it is the businesses that genuinely want to get involved in improving Huntingdon who sign up." Initiatives have included the Town Maps' Project to highlight what is on offer and the Retail Skills' Project offering specialist training to independent businesses.