Wealden project is streets ahead for trade

Hailsham high street
Hailsham high street

A project to help struggling High Streets ‘reinvent and ‘reinvigorate’ themselves has taken a step forward after councillors agreed a report to help improve town centres in Wealden.

The Wealden District Council Scrutiny Committee Streets Ahead working party recommended the council created a project (Streets Ahead) to work more effectively with traders.

It suggested the council set up the new project to help businesses and residents share ideas about how to aid struggling high streets and help them cope with 21st century challenges.

The report was unanimously approved by the committee and will now be discussed by cabinet with a view to allocating resources to take it further.

Cllr Nigel McKeeman, chair of the scrutiny committee, said: “With threats from internet retailing, out of town shopping and falling household incomes, there has arguably never been a worse time to be a high street trader. Only 40 per cent of retail spending is expected to take place in our high streets next year. If the situation on the high street is not going to get worse, it will need to reinvigorate and reinvent itself.”

But the Streets Ahead report also said the challenges could be the best of times for the High Street. Cllr McKeeman continued: “These changes give towns and villages an opportunity to rethink and reconstruct the role of their high street. Communities across the UK are trying out new ideas, encouraging new enterprises and finding fresh ways to attract local people, and visitors back into the town centre.”

The working party has set up its own Facebook page to swap ideas and is seeking support from Wealden’s Cabinet to work with local retail interests to explore practical solutions both locally and strategically across the district and position Wealden as a leader of innovative High Street regeneration. The report said Wealden’s towns are already looking to meet the challenge: Hailsham has introduced a new street market and is working on an online town and shopping guide, Crowborough is running a loyalty card scheme and Heathfield has the Le Marche French market.

Cllr McKeeman said: “Every town and village will have different issues, requiring different solutions, but many of the underlying concerns and challenges will be shared. They will have to take the lead. Through the Streets Ahead project, Wealden can provide a forum for sharing solutions and bringing in new ideas from further afield. We can also use our resources in both planning and regeneration to help make the solutions happen.”

The report was welcomed by Councillor Roy Galley, Cabinet member for Economic Development and Regeneration.