New management team put in place for Portas Pilot in Berwick

A new management group has been put in place for Berwick's troubled Portas Pilot

Berwick high street
Berwick high street

A new group has been put in place to manage a regeneration funding scheme which was at the centre of a bitter row.

The management group has been set up for the Portas Pilot at Berwick in Northumberland, after the body which won the funding was removed from the leadership role due to concerns over speed of delivery.

To date £70,000 has been allocated through the fund, compared to the figure of less than £10,000 at the end of September last year.

Berwick was awarded £100,000 under the government scheme, which seeks to regenerate town centres, in July 2012.

Northumberland County Council as supervisory body for the grant agreed to match the £100,000, creating a £200,000 fund.

Berwick Town Team took on responsibility for managing the pilot having penned the winning bid, but was rocked by a number of personnel changes, including the resignation of chairman Ed Swales.

By the end of September last year, less than £10,000 of the fund had been spent.

As a result, the county council took responsibility for the project from the town team, transferring it to its development company Arch and then Berwick Town Council, in a bid to speed up delivery progress.

Mary Portas, who was behind the scheme to boost flagging high streets
Mary Portas, who was behind the scheme to boost flagging high streets

It has now been announced that a new management group has been set up which will sit within the town council.

The group is made up of three town councillors, three members of the business community, three representatives of the wider Berwick community and representatives of the county council.

It will receive, consider and approve bids for funding and be chaired by town councillor John Robertson. A senior officer from the county council will support the work of the group.

Barry Rowland, executive director of place at the authority, said: “Portas is a valuable project which has the potential to have a very positive impact on Berwick.

“Thanks should go to the team who formulated the bid and secured the Portas grant in 2012.

“We are pleased to be working with the town council and the local community to progress delivery of schemes, and are confident that the new governance arrangements are robust and inclusive, allowing the involvement of local people.

“We believe that the scheme will result in positive change for the town of Berwick and are fully committed to supporting it. We remain appreciative of the efforts of everyone who has played a role in the project so far, and thank them for their hard work.”

Coun Robertson added: “No-one is in any doubt about the challenges facing Berwick town centre, but we are all determined to work together to make the best use of the Portas Pilot funds for the benefit of our town and community.

“We will be building on the successes so far, and welcome the support and practical advice of both the county council and Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure the best possible outcome for Berwick.”

Partners have agreed there should be a focus on improving trading conditions as well as on the physical environment of Marygate, the town’s principle shopping street.

So far, £70,000 has been invested in projects including a pop up shop, new ‘gateway’ signs at the town’s train station, improvements to its market, the refurbishment of a former toilet to provide a new catering outlet, the reintroduction of boat trips on the River Tweed, a marketing campaign for this summer’s major Lowry exhibition in celebration of the famous artist who regularly painted the community, and the restoration of Berwick’s Lowry Trail.

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