VIDEO: Lowestoft to become a Mary Portas Pilot town, while Aylsham, Diss, Halesworth, North Walsham, Southwold, Thetford, Wisbech, Brandon and Hunstanton miss out
Lowestoft will be handed up to �100,000 to rejuvenate its high street after it was selected for a pilot scheme spearheaded by retail-guru Mary Portas.
The north Suffolk town beat about 400 communities nationwide to secure 'Portas Pilot' status, which provides a slice of �1.5m and the chance to test out Ms Portas' ideas for regeneration.
But its success comes as nine towns across Norfolk and north Suffolk saw their bids fail.
Aylsham, Diss, Halesworth, North Walsham, Southwold, Thetford, Wisbech, Brandon and Hunstanton were all left disappointed today – although some towns claimed their applications had helped bring their communities together.
Lowestoft will now become one of 27 communities across the country earmarked for the project following the government's decision to launch a second wave of pilot towns.
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Emma King, Lowestoft's town centre manager, told of her joy at the successful bid which will include a business mentoring project and a discount scheme for shoppers.
She said: 'This is an enormous achievement for Lowestoft and is real recognition for a town which has faced difficulties but, due to the passion of the people working within it, has managed to ride the storms and can now look towards a positive future.'
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'Over the last few years, the Lowestoft Town Management Partnership (LTMP) has already developed a town team which includes a variety of both independent and national retailers, the police, Waveney District Council, the church and more. The team has become a strong 'voice' for the town, in line with the Portas approach and we now look forward to developing this and other projects with the funding received.'
The government launched the pilot town scheme to help high streets fight fierce competition from internet shopping and out-of-town shopping centres.
Initially, 12 towns were awarded Portas Pilot status, before the government invited towns to reapply for 15 new pilot projects.
The Lowestoft Town Team's winning bid aims to increase footfall in the High Street by launching a mentoring scheme between larger and smaller traders; creating Town Rangers to provide security and information to shoppers; a new Lowestoft Town 'group' discount scheme, as well as marketing boards to highlight attractions that the high street has to offer.
Colin Law, leader of Waveney District Council, said: 'This is absolutely wonderful news for the town and to be chosen from over 300 different bids is a very great achievement.
'We have worked closely in partnership with LTMP and it is because of our shared aspirations and determination that we have reached our goal.
'Every town faces its challenges but we have risen above the others by showing a real passion allied to great ideas and sound business principles. This is just the beginning and we cannot wait to make Lowestoft an even greater place to be.'
Meanwhile, across Norfolk and Suffolk communities told of their disappointment at missing out on the pilot scheme.
Oliver Chapman, leader of the Diss Portas Pilot team, which applied for just �1, said they were not too downhearted and they would be continuing to draw up a business plan to improve the town and increase footfall. 'The money is not an issue. If there is a project that people believe in, we can find the money. We are meeting this week to work on a business plan for people to see all the ideas. It would have been a bonus to be a Portas Pilot town,' he said.
Mike Ruston, from Hunstanton's town team and the chamber of commerce, said the money would have been nice, but not receiving it was 'not the end of the world.'
Mr Ruston said there were many positive things happening in the town at the moment, many of which were as a result of the catalyst of the Portas bids.
'We studied the application we made in the first round and had a look at other people's as we wondered if we had got anything wrong, but didn't think we had so just left it in for the second round.'
'There is more harmony here now with the Chamber of Trade, town council, civic society and West Norfolk Council all working together to improve things for the town.
'Tesco has plans to expand here which are well advanced and there is also a proposal by Marston's pub group for a restaurant – so there are things happening,' he said.
Mr Ruston added that the town team was also looking at The Spinney area was in need of work to make it more attractive – with the potential for benches and a hard-standing area for craft fairs or food markets.
Mair Stockdale, chairman of North Walsham chamber of trade, said: 'It is very sad news, but you have got to look on the positive side, because if it had not been for the Portas bid then we would not have got together as a community, we will not abandon all the work which has been done, we have got to take the positives out of it.'
The Thetford School of Radical Thought, which was formed to put together a bid to the Portas Pilot scheme, stressed it would continue with its aims of regenerating the high street, despite being unsuccessful.
One of the founding members, Corinne Fulford, said: 'Naturally we're disappointed because we did feel we had a stronger bid this time but at the end of the day there was a lot of demand for that money.
'We'll dust ourselves off and pick ourselves up and continue building on the progress we've already made and you never know, maybe a generous benefactor will come forward and help us out.'
James Wagner, chair of Halesworth Town Council, said: 'It has been a brilliant exercise and ties in with what we need for our town plan. Even if it has been an unsuccessful exercise it has been fantastic in bringing people together.'
Guy Mitchell, chairman of the Southwold chamber of trade, said: 'We are sorry to hear we missed out, but we want Southwold to remain a vibrant high street with a diverse range of businesses that are able to offer something different to the high street chains.
'We have introduced the My Southwold scheme to encourage people to spend with local businesses.'
He added that they have been told there will still be some access to other funds that they will be able to use for some of their ideas.
Meanwhile, those communities who failed will have the opportunity to sign a pledge to become a Town Team Partner, which will provide access to a programme to help put elements of their plans into action.
Local Government Minister Grant Shapps said: 'Today I'd like to congratulate the 15 town teams that, in the face of stiff competition, have been selected to be the next Portas Pilots. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, and I'm determined that we don't turn our backs on the other 392 Town Teams who put their plans forward to revive their high streets.
'That's why I'm calling on these communities, led by their MPs, to put themselves forward once again to become Town Team Partners. Each one that applies will benefit from a package of support to refine their plans and get the help and advice they need to bring their town centres back to life.
'I don't want to lose the incredible momentum and I want to know that no town is left behind after such an enthusiastic and imaginative response to Mary Portas's review. So alongside the 27 Portas Pilots across the country, these Town Team Partners will also be able to revive their high streets and make them the beating hearts of their communities once again.'
The government asked Ms Portas to investigate the state of English high streets and she published her review in December last year.
It made a number of recommendations for local authorities and businesses to administer a shot in the arm to shopping areas facing a declining footfall.
In order to become a Portas Pilot Town, the applicants had to demonstrate they could carry out these recommendations by creating a Town Team made up of members of the community.
Speaking about the announcement of the new pilot towns, Ms Portas said: 'I am thrilled that communities up and down the country have looked beyond the money and have been mobilised to create 'town teams' and demand more for their high streets. While I shall continue to fight for the other 27 'recommendations' in my Review am looking forward to seeing fifteen more British towns putting their plans into action'
The second wave of successful 'Portas Pilot' bids also included: Ashford; Berwick; Braintree; Brighton (London Road); Hatfield; Leamington (Old Town); Liverpool (Lodge Lane); Waterloo; Forest Hill, Kirkdale, Sydenham (London Borough of Lewisham); Chrisp Street, Watney Market, Roman Road (London Borough of Tower Hamlets; Loughborough; Morecambe; Rothertham; and Tiverton.