A redundant department store could be turned into a community-owned shopping centre as part of ambitious plans to regenerate the retail heart of Northumberland’s biggest town.
A new lease of life for the former North Eastern Co-op store in Blyth – which closed last month with the loss of 34 jobs – is one of a number of ideas being discussed to give the town a brighter future.
Initial discussions have been held between the Blyth Town Team and the county council on the possibility of redeveloping the boarded-up Westgate House store, in Waterloo Road, as shops, offices or even an indoor market.
The large building, which overlooks the market square, was closed by its owner, Anglian Co-operative, in June after attempts to sell it as a going concern failed.
Now its future is being examined as part of a package of schemes which the town team is working on, after a decision to continue funding the post of town manager, Malcolm Hutchinson, for another 18 months.
Other projects being discussed to revive local fortunes include:
A membership and loyalty scheme to encourage people to invest and spend in Blyth;
The possibility of covering the town’s market place so that markets can be held in all weathers;
Re-opening empty shops to provide greater retail variety and bring in customers, and running themed events all year to attract more visitors;
Starting a Town Train to take visitors around Blyth attractions such as the beach, Ridley Park, the quayside, the markets and the town centre.
It has also been agreed to launch a free minibus shuttle service, which will run from 10am to 5pm every Friday and Saturday in August, starting on August 2. It will take people around four areas – the town centre, Ridley Park and its water fountains, the beach and the quayside.
Mr Hutchinson, who was appointed a year ago, has set up the town team, a limited company whose directors are local business people. Yesterday he said the free minibus service was one of the team’s first efforts to widen the town’s visitor appeal. Town team chairman, Steven Bradley, said the continued funding for Mr Hutchinson’s post was great news. “We will now be in a position to move forward, as we need a town manager in place to drive forward and deliver the projects, in addition to promoting the town and its benefits at every opportunity.”
County council business chairman, Scott Dickinson, said: “We're pleased to be able to work with the Blyth town team to create new opportunities for the town, its businesses and residents.
“One of the ideas we discussed in our recent meeting was future use for the old Co-op store at Westgate House, and it’s clear there is support for the idea of a community-owned shopping centre there.
“We're looking forward to working with the town team, developing a business case for this idea.”