MP holds ‘High Street Strategy’ meeting

Geoffrey Cox last Friday held a meeting to bring together independent market town traders from within Torridge to discuss their concerns and suggestions for improvements to the high street. The MP called the meeting as a result of local traders contacting him over recent months and years to express their frustration and dismay at the deterioration of the market town high street, and general trading environment.

Representatives of trading groups from Torrington, Holsworthy and Bideford were given the opportunity to raise issues of concern with the MP, officers from Torridge District Council and Devon County Council, and local Councillors. It was no surprise that parking was the main concern of traders, who were keen to point out that market towns are usually visited by customers who simply want to pop into town for a few items and probably spend no longer than 30minutes to an hour in the town. Therefore convenience of parking is essential to ensure these customers are willing to come into the town.

Holsworthy traders and councillors were keen to raise concerns about the number of charity shops within the town and their sale new goods in competition with local shops. It was discussed that while charity shops are better than empty shops, the proliferation of them does not always create the most diverse shopping experience. Charity shops currently receive an 80% business rate relief with a possible further 20% at the discretion of the local council. Currently Torridge does not give the 20% relief to charity shops that declare they sell new goods, however it was accepted that there is no official monitoring system in place for this. The MP suggested that the Council may look into policy which could form part of the “local development framework” to ensure that the ratio of charity shops to other retail outlets is balanced within market towns.

The condition of town centre buildings was the remaining issue on the agenda, and traders were pleased to be informed by Torridge Council that they had recently set up “The Tidy Town Scheme” whereby traders and local residents can contact the Council to inform them of particularly run-down areas or buildings within town centres, which would be added to a ‘top priority’ list of areas to be improved.

Geoffrey Cox said “today’s meeting has been a step forward in making policy changes that will be a direct reflection of traders' concerns and will make a positive difference to their trading environment. Some practical changes have been suggested, all of which I intend to follow up. It is so important that our high street and town centres are not simply allowed to lose their character and sense of place, which are so vital to attracting shoppers, simply due to the bad use of planning”.

He continued “In 2008 I was part of a Commission into small shops in the high street, which set out a series of suggestions that research showed would help small shops to continue to thrive in our high streets. Now that we are in government, I am determined to do whatever I can to encourage implementation, where possible, of the suggestions put forward in the Commission. It is time independent retailers received support from government and local authorities, before it is too late”.

For further information, or if you are a local trader and would like to pass on your concerns and suggestions for improvements to the high street, please visit Geoffrey Cox’s website at where you can contribute to the High Street Strategy Campaign and ensure your views are heard.