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MARKET TOWNS: 21st CENTURY SERVICE CENTRES

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Market towns throughout England can serve the modern countryside. A new national project launched by the Countrysid...
Market towns throughout England can serve the modern countryside. A new national project launched by the Countryside Agency yesterday will help uncover their potential to act as service centres -

- where retail and professional services can provide for the needs of

the people of the town and the surrounding villages

- capitalising on the potential of IT and innovative public transport

- exploiting the distinctive products of the surrounding countryside

through farmers' markets and new food processing businesses

- providing land for new housing for all sectors of the community

The launch focuses on one of Countryside Agency's pilot projects in Malton, North Yorkshire, where the Countryside Agency has formed a local partnership with Yorkshire Forward, to help market town regeneration.

Countryside Agency chief executive Richard Wakeford says:

'The Countryside Agency is taking the lead to help reinvigorate England's market towns. We aim to establish a national 'health check', methodology to help local authorities examine the economic, social and environmental health of market towns. This will help identify danger signals. Beyond this we envisage an intensive community planning process - involving local people, local government, relevant

agencies and experts who can advise on the art of the possible.

'Implementation to achieve the agreed vision would then be for all relevant agencies (regional development agencies and others), operating in a local partnership to focus funding where it is most needed.'

Traditionally, market towns have been at the heart of life in rural England. For centuries they have acted as focal points for commercial and social activity, places in which to find work, to buy or sell goods, or to find valued specialist services. However, in the last 50 years many of these functions have been changed - reflecting changes in society, industry and agriculture.

'Now we must look forward to our future needs and establish how to change our country towns to meet the needs of those who live there and those who live in the villages and countryside around. That way we can shape market towns to be service centres for the 21st century.'

Some towns are adapting to changing demands and are thriving, but there are many which continue to decline and are clearly struggling. It is these towns which the Countryside Agency aims to help revitalise early in the 21st century.

In Yorkshire and Humber the Countryside Agency and Yorkshire Forward plan to fund jointly a community-led regeneration programme, providing direct financial assistance to up to 18 towns over the next six years. This will help pay for the development of an Action Plan for the town, administration costs for a local partnership, project funding and a final evaluation for the scheme. It should serve as a model for application in the other regions.

NOTES

The Countryside Agency uses the term market towns to broadly encompass

populations of between 2,000 and 20,000 (approx 1,000 in England). However, this is less important than the town,s potential to act as a service centre for itself and its rural hinterland.

The Countryside Agency works closely with and fully supports the work of Action for Market Towns - a national membership organisation which not only promotes the life and very existence of small towns but also supports and assists small towns in tackling the challenges they face.

Many other Countryside Agency pilot projects are under way throughout England including:

In the North West, the agency is leading research into indicators of market towns prosperity and an associated methodology for a market towns health check.

In addition, the research contract will develop a methodology for community led action planning for market towns regeneration.

The outputs of the research will enable local communities to identify social, economic and environmental issues affecting market towns and to address them through creative mechanisms. The programme of research and demonstration is being developed in partnership with the North West Development Agency.

The Countryside Agency and Advantage West Midlands are jointly undertaking a regional study of market town regeneration. They have appointed KPMG to conduct a broad survey of 17 representative market towns to look at triggers which both promote and hinder regeneration. The study will go on to look, in depth, at the challenges facing the five towns of Oswestry, Leominster, Kington, Evesham and Leek.

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