'Small shops are the future'
THE man appointed to lead a town centre's revival believes independent retailers could help it thrive.
Matt Taylor, who is Newcastle's new town centre manager, says smaller, homegrown businesses are needed to fill up empty units.
Following the recent collapse of a string of High Street names, such as HMV and Blockbuster, Mr Taylor acknowledged that regenerating Newcastle town centre would be a challenge.
But he believes the town could succeed by offering shoppers something different.
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Mr Taylor, who serves as a borough councillor for the Town ward, has run a number of North Staffordshire pubs, including most recently the Full Moon in Newcastle.
But he said he would be stepping back from his business interests to focus on this role.
He is currently coming up with ideas to present to Newcastle Town Centre Partnership, his employer, at its March board meeting.
Mr Taylor said: "I know it is a difficult time for town centres in general. You can't really rely on the big High Street names any more.
"The way forward is to play to our strengths. We have smaller units in Newcastle which would be suitable for smaller, independent retailers.
"That isn't to say we can't attract larger retailers. Hopefully when the old Sainsbury's site is redeveloped, they will be able to move there. But we've got to be different to other towns, we have to offer things people can't find elsewhere."
Mr Taylor said he wanted to see more 'pop-up' shops and suggested competitions where entrepreneurs could win the use of a unit for a limited period.
Newcastle Town Centre Partnership is made up of businesses, Newcastle Borough Council, and other organisations, such as Keele University.
The council has provided £30,000 to fund the town centre position. But Mr Taylor said he would be continuing in his role as a councillor, denying there was any conflict of interest.
He added: "I'm excited to be getting on with my new role. It's a beautiful town. One of the reasons why I stood to be a councillor was that I wanted to make a positive difference here."
Partnership chairman Jonathan Mitchell said: "The high street is going through a bad time at the moment.
"We're trying to do something about it and create a positive message. But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating – we will have to deliver results."
Sheila Bryant, chairman of Poolfields Residents' Association, said: "I think more independent businesses would be ideal. Every time I go into town there seems to be another business that's closed down. With the hospital and university nearby, Newcastle should be thriving, but if they don't do something soon it will end up like Burslem or Stoke. The bigger chains all want to be out of town these days, so smaller shops might be the answer."