A MAJOR push has been launched to encourage new retailers to set up in Huntingdonshire s town centres, not just in the short term but in expanding town centres. The district council s economic development team has produced a series of glossy brochures to

A MAJOR push has been launched to encourage new retailers to set up in Huntingdonshire's town centres, not just in the short term but in expanding town centres.

The district council's economic development team has produced a series of glossy brochures to spell out the attractions of Huntingdon, St Neots, St Ives and Ramsey.

On November 19, a group of retail property agents will be visiting the area and taking a pre-opening trip on the St Ives-Cambridge guided bus. The event is being organised by HDC in conjunction with the county council and the owners of the Endurance Business Park in St Ives, which believes the new bus service will be a big incentive for re-locating employers.

"We are targeting not only national retailers," said HDC's economic development manager Helen Donnellan. "Independent retailers are key features of our town centre, and we want to encourage more of them."

The recession has hit Huntingdonshire's town centres significantly less hard than high streets across the country, where an average of 10 per cent of retail space is vacant. Here that figure is just six per cent, Ms Donnellan said.

"We want vibrant market towns, and we are looking at how we can get more footfall both in the short term and when Huntingdon and St Neots expand in the future. Lead-in times for major retailers can be quite long.

"For once, we have some sizeable and attractive empty retail units that we want to fill. We haven't previously had the capacity to attract retailers."

Among the key targets will be attracting Marks and Spencer, which has retained its St Neots store but closed its food outlet in Huntingdon earlier this year, back to Huntingdon.

HDC makes much of Huntingdon's key location in the Stansted/Cambridge/Peterborough growth corridor in which nearly 130,000 new homes are due to be built by 2026 - around 14,000 of them in Huntingdonshire. The council's publicity explains Huntingdon's key transport connections and social and leisure facilities available to staff relocating.

St Neots, already the largest town in Cambridgeshire, where most of the planned growth will take place, offers not just a long history including 200 listed buildings and an 800-year-old market square, but HDC's latest commercial magnet, the £2million Creative Exchange.

The award-winning building, opened almost exactly a year ago, was designed to encourage emerging creative businesses to set up on the Longsands campus, near the railway station. The town offers space to grow and support to thrive, HDC says.

Its pitch for St Ives makes much not only of its long history but of its transport links, including the guided busway, which is due to open on November 29, and its ease of access to Cambridge and Stansted Airport.

The council also hopes that the impending opening of the new Tesco store in Ramsey will encourage other retailers to invest in the gently-growing town.

Councillor Andrew Hansard, HDC's executive councillor for economic development, said: "We feel it is important to make every effort possible to raise the profile of our district and its towns among retailers and their agents. We are a rapidly-expanding district with excellent rail and road networks. These new brochures provide a new perspective on the area and highlight why businesses should be part of it."

INFORMATION: The set of brochures will be available at www.huntingdonshire.gov.uk. Further information through Sue.Bedlow@huntsdc.gov.uk