A TEAM of experts has been hired to try to prevent a historic city from turning into a “clone town”.
Miller Research Associates, which has already delivered a pilot retail distinctiveness project for One NorthEast, based on eight market towns across the region, will carry out the survey on Durham City.
A clone town is a place where the individuality of high street shops has been replaced by a monochrome strip of global and national chains, somewhere that could easily be mistaken for dozens of bland town centres across the country.
By contrast, a home town has a high street that retains its individual character and is instantly recognisable and distinctive to the people who live there.
Although Durham has a World Heritage site castle, cathedral, and quaint cobbled streets spanning the River Wear, it has been criticised for having a lack of individual shops.
Even its new flagship Walkergate city centre development consists largely of bars, restaurants and a budget hotel run by national chains, a policy which led to former city MP Gerry Steinberg branding it “an inappropriate scheme on such a prime site”.
The Durham City 2020 Vision, formed to shape the city’s future and to attract more visitors, comprises Durham city and county councils, One NorthEast, Durham University, the Cathedral, and the North-East Chamber of Commerce, has as one of its policy statements to make shopping in Durham “more attractive and distinctive”. Harvey Dowdy, regeneration manager at Durham City Vision, said: “We are delighted to be able to extend Miller Research’s valuable work with the region’s market towns to help achieve a step change in Durham City’s retail offer.
“We want to work with the city’s retailers to help create a more distinctive shopping and services product that will not only attract new visitors but will ensure that the city centre as a whole meets more of the needs of its existing customers.
“The Durham Vision Masterplan identified areas for improvement in the city centre and while this project will not solve everything overnight, it will, hopefully, lead to swift actions that will not only address these issues but also help us to create a thriving commercial heart to our city that will complement its magnificent history.”
Nick Miller, director of Miller Research, said: “We’re looking forward to working with the retail community to make the city a vibrant and distinctive place.”
The initial research and consultation phase of the project is expected to last six months and will lead to an Action Plan.