ST NEOTS High Street is to be transformed with new areas to socialise, specialist markets and a greater retail mix all aimed at turning the area into a multi-function centre.

Council officials are working on ambitious plans to bring Huntingdonshire's largest town into the 21st century.

The aggressive programme will involve an array of stakeholders and will build on the Town Team Partnership established during St Neots' bid to become a Portas Pilot Town in March.

"The town centre is about more than just shopping," town centre manager, Katie Williams, told The Hunts Post.

"We want to cater for all generations, tune into people's interests and support increased spending, investment and development in the town.

"Over the next 10 years we're looking to see a greater retail mix as well as making better use of our natural assets such as the river, parks and market square."

Mrs Williams said an exciting programme of outdoor events would breathe life into St Neots and add colour to the High Street.

She explained that the new-look town centre would feature social areas for people to meet up and relax, artisan and specialist markets, live street entertainment, outdoor exhibitions and regular events to draw people to the town

"We are keen to promote St Neots as a visitor attraction for day trippers - it is a unique, relaxed family town for visitors to enjoy," she added.

The new town centre strategy will focus initially on developing ways to fill empty shops, for example providing opportunities to fledgling businesses who may want to dip their toe into retail without signing a lease.

"We plan to start with small, simple steps and make frequent visible changes around the town such as improving access to information about St Neots, building on our existing markets and organising more feel-good events for the town - such as the Diamond Jubilee weekend which brought people to St Neots from far and wide.

"We are also planning a town fashion show this autumn.

"This project will bring the town centre businesses together and showcase great products available to buy on high street while raising money for local charities."

Two projects will kick-off the new town centre strategy.

The first will be the establishment of a Town Team Partnership Group consisting of representatives from all town user groups including local authorities, retailers, landowners, transport providers, schools, police, community groups, residents associations and MP Jonathan Djanogly.

The aim is to determine the wishes and needs of the town and formulate a project plan with which to move forward, with regular consultation workshops addressing the key areas of tourism, town marketing, footfall, leisure, development and supporting infrastructure.

The second project is an application to become Town Team Partners.

Following the announcement successful of Portas Pilot towns, the Department of Communities and Local Government announced that those not selected could apply to become Town Team Partners.

The scheme requires the backing of the local MP and so with Jonathan Djanogly's help, the town will receive £10,000 to fund elements of the original Town Team plan.

Mr Djanogly told The Hunts Post: "I am very pleased indeed to see a very concerted and cross-working approach in St Neots towards improving the town centre.

"The Town Team Partners application is very good news and I will do everything I can to help."

Chairman of the St Neots Town Centre Initiative, John Davies, added: "The breadth of projects being considered for St Neots is very welcome and the Town Centre Initiative and the Business Club will support it."

Mrs Williams added the possibility of developing a Business Improvement District in St Neots - where businesses pay an additional tax or fee in order to fund agreed improvements - would be something the town would definitely explore in the future.