D&S column: the future of our town centres

NEXT week two important gatherings will be held in the constituency which could have a big impact on the town centres of Richmond and Northallerton.

Both are about the setting up of Business Improvement Districts – or BIDs – to boost the fortunes of the shops, pubs, restaurants and other enterprises in the centre of our two biggest market towns.

It is interesting that the two plans have emerged completely independently of each other suggesting that businesses in Richmond and Northallerton are facing similar challenges and are thinking positively about how they can meet them.

We are lucky to have strong High Streets and town centres in the constituency but we shouldn’t underestimate the challenge they face from changing shopping habits – particularly the ease of buying online.

Having spent part of my business career in the US, I have witnessed the way that these changes have damaged Main Streets across the States. But I don’t think that has to happen in the UK.

We have got some great independent businesses, many of them family run, offering the sort of personal service you just will not find anywhere else. My family and I always try to use these businesses when we can. It may be a cliché but we have to use ‘em or lose ‘em.

But that sentiment, which I hope my constituents share, isn’t enough in itself to ensure your town centres thrive in the future. They need to be improved, they need to be clean, tidy, secure and they need to be marketed - which is where a BID can play a part.

If the businesses in the centre of town pay a small extra rate of one per cent – in most cases that will be less than £100 a year – it can raise a considerable sum of money to be spent on those improvements. Exactly what those improvements are would be decided by all the contributing businesses.

There is plenty of evidence that BIDs can make a real difference. Skipton is one North Yorkshire market town where it has been a success. In its first term, for example, the Skipton BID launched 12 festivals to successfully attract people to the town and also launched an “I Love Skipton” brand

I hope there is a good turnout for the drop-in information session in Richmond on Tuesday and the meeting in Northallerton on Thursday. Unfortunately, Parliamentary business means I can’t be at the King’s Head in Richmond on Tuesday but I will be at Barkers to support the Northallerton proposal on Thursday.

Last Friday, I had an interesting time attending a student leadership event at County Hall, Northallerton, attended by secondary school pupils from all over North Yorkshire, including groups from St Francis Xavier, Richmond, and Risedale.

I spoke about how I came to be an MP last May and my colleague Andrew Jones, the MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, talked about his role as a MP but also as a transport minster helping to frame and deliver Government policy.

There was a stimulating Q and A session afterwards which I really enjoyed but had to cut slightly short to get to my surgery appointments in Hawes before coming back down dale for a meeting about apprenticeships at Scotch Corner. A typically busy day!