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Published 29th Mar 2012

Debbie Isley

Town centre retailers are backing a bid for Middlesbrough to become a Portas Pilot town.

Retail guru Mary Portas has been asked by the Prime Minister to help revive the UK’s High Streets.

In a wide-ranging review Mary Portas recommended towns should come up with new and innovative ideas to help improve their centres with the best bids getting up to £100,000 of funding.

In Middlesbrough retailers have spoken passionately about their ideas to improve the town centre and feel becoming a Portas Pilot town will be a big boost.

The Portas Pilot bid also complements Middlesbrough’s Business Improvement District programme to help improve the town centre in new and innovative ways.

Debbie Isley, who runs Lots of Loveliness in Linthorpe Road, backed the Portas bid.

She said: “I’m passionate about Middlesbrough, it’s my town.

“I like the people and I think we have got quite a bad reputation, which is not true at all.

“Middlesbrough has got lots of potential and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

If Middlesbrough became a Portas Pilot Debbie said she would like to see new ways to work with landlords to tackle the number of empty shops and make Middlesbrough more vibrant.

Kate Fearnley, who runs Kate Fearnley Fashions on Linthorpe Road, said the area around her shop was developing

“The independent boutiques that have popped up in the last few years on Linthorpe Road are a rare thing for a small town,”

Kate said car parking was the biggest problem that could be tackled in a Portas Pilot.

Other businesses backing the Portas bid include Steve Cochrane at Psyche, Carli McNaught at the Olde Young Teahouse, Oliver Heffernan at Ack! Ack! Ack! Records, Iggy at Coffee at Elliots and Liam Percy at Al Forno restaurant.

Alan Weston, town centre manager, said: “We talk every day with retailers and businesses and know there is the enthusiasm and passion there to help the town centre become an even better destination and attract more shoppers, visitors and workers to the town centre.

“Becoming a Portas Pilot would complement our Business Improvement District programme of improving the customer experience, building town centre loyalty, expanding the customer base and help us to tackle issues in new and innovative ways.”

Councillor Charlie Rooney, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive Member for Regeneration, said: “We have a strong Town Centre Partnership with a vision for the future of the town centre.

“We know our town centre is performing relatively well compared to many others and remains very popular with shoppers but we also know we can’t afford to stand-still and have aspirations to make the town centre even better in the future.

“Becoming a Portas Pilot and potentially a Business Improvement District will be major boosts to helping that vision become a reality.”

What would you do to improve the town centre?

Steve Cochrane, Psyche: “Middlesbrough has a pretty bad image nationally so it’s difficult to attract customers from outside the area. I would like to work to improve that.

“We also have problems with parking and if we could plant more trees and improve the look and feel of the centre I think customers would be more relaxed.”

Liam Percy, Al Forno: “What we need is leaders who will take decisions now and who will move us forward very quickly.

“We cannot afford to be sitting here in two years time still talking about the Mary Portas review. We need action now.”

Debbie Isley, Lots of Loveliness: “We have got a lot of empty shops. People think if it’s not working for them it mustn’t work for anyone else but that’s not the case.

“We need to do some sort of landlord scheme where we can get more people in the empty shops and the town will look more vibrant.”

Carli McNaught, The Olde Young Teahouse: “I would like to see a lot done with the vacant buildings in the town centre.

“Middlesbrough has a lot of creative people who could use them, especially graduates from the art college.”

Kate Fearnley, Kate Fearnley Fashions: “I struggle with the car parking situation. I always have customers asking ‘where am I going to park?’

“Its really difficult to find somewhere to park in the town centre even at 8am so you can see why customers go to Teesside Park where parking is free.”

Iggy, Coffee at Elliots: “I would like to see a market running down Linthorpe Road on weekends.

“I would also like to see more events put on in Middlesbrough for children, because children bring adults and adults spend money. A lot of improvements are needed.”

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