Councillors are going to be looking at the key findings of a report that focuses on the support received by the retail sector when they meet next week.

Durham County Council’s Cabinet will examine the report by the economy and enterprise overview and scrutiny committee review group that looks at what the authority offers to the retail sector in the area, when it meets on Wednesday, 16January.

The review group set out to examine the support for the retail sector currently provided by the council, investigate and understand how the authority works with partners including its Area Action Partnerships (AAPs) to develop and deliver retail support, identify any gaps, and examine any actions put forward to address them.

As part of the review the group visited four of the largest town centres in the county, including Barnard Castle, Chester-le-Street, Seaham and Stanley. This provided an opportunity for councillors to meet the local retailers and developers to get their views on the support they felt they had received from the council. 

Walkabouts in each town centre were also carried out to allow members of the review group to see first-hand some of the challenges and current ongoing regeneration and development projects.

Cllr Alison Batey, chair of the economy and enterprise overview and scrutiny committee, said: “We are currently in the process of consulting on the emerging County Durham Plan, which includes the future strategy for town centres in the county.  We carried out this review to identify any trends and influencing factors that will help us to understand the retail offer in County Durham so that we can protect our town centres and increase their vibrancy.” 

The review found that there are many good projects and initiatives taking place to support the retail offer in the county’s town centres. The 14 AAPs have supported over one hundred schemes to help boost retail and work closely with the council’s community economic development team to deliver local projects such as On-line Teesdale and the free public Wi-Fi scheme in Bishop Auckland and Stanley. 

Also identified were a number of areas where additional work can be done. Improvement areas include improving information on the health of the county’s town centres, IT connectivity, signage, communication around events and further development of support to retail businesses.