Time to get town’s high street flourishing again

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COMMENT: A business community that is simply the best

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For me, nothing captures Gosport’s community spirit like our market. A wander through its bustling stalls – selling anything from garden ornaments to thermal underwear – gives you a real sense of the area’s vibrancy and character.

It’s a contrast to some days on the high street. Despite boasting some great shops, much of our town centre is suffering from the malaise affecting high streets up and down the country.

Tough economic times and the increase in internet shopping have caused the number of vacant units to rise – and with 13 per cent of jobs in Gosport relying on retail, we need to reverse this trend.

That’s why I’m campaigning for Gosport to be chosen to pilot new proposals for kick-starting high street success. Retail star Mary Portas has delivered her verdict on how our town centres can be rejuvenated and Gosport would be the ideal test case.

With a world-class marina, spectacular waterfront and the dogged perseverance that’s vital in today’s economy, we’ve got all the ingredients for success.

I stressed in a Parliamentary debate last week on the Portas Review how great that potential is.

Unfortunately, a few rogue shops haven’t helped matters. In the debate, I highlighted how the incomplete ‘refurbishment’ of Gosport’s Post Office left it looking like a building site for over three years. Now head office has been in touch and hopefully its completion will be part of a much greater move to revitalise the high street.

If a campaign to secure Gosport’s place as a Portas Review pilot succeeds, we could see the high street transformed by freeing up planning regulation, plus a freeze on business rates and disincentives for landlords with empty units, along with a ‘town team’ to revolutionise high street management.

I’ve already met local government minister Grant Shapps to discuss the proposals and make my case. Town centres are the heart of a community, so let’s get ours flourishing once again.