A PROGRAMME designed to support “reinventing the market town” is launching this year, investing £1million into the county’s major high streets.

The Wiltshire Towns programme will put £1million each year, until 2025, into a range of different projects and businesses to attract visitors to Wiltshire.

With £45,000 to be allocated to Salisbury in the programme’s first phase, ‘Wiltshire Towns’ aims to support the city as it continues to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and the ever-increasing shift to online shopping.

The scheme will also be involved in supporting an upcoming ‘What’s on’ app – a guide to events and goings on across Wiltshire - and a virtual heritage trail.

‘Experience-based new model’

During a briefing on June 15, Wiltshire Council leader Richard Clewer said all areas of the county had “unique issues”, and the programme would enable businesses and councils to “build on assets” and “create extra vibrancy”.

With retail parks and online shopping significantly changing the high street scene, Councillor Clewer said it was time to “reinvent the market towns” as they are no longer just used for shopping. Instead they need an “experience-based new model”.

He said “the local characteristics, the stories and the heritage” of each Wiltshire area needed to be utilised to better the experience for those visiting.

Victoria Moloney, head of economy and regeneration, added the investment would support both the maintaining and generating of activities in different areas, as well as helping struggling and upcoming businesses.

Tackling empty shops

The Journal asked the authority how vacant sites in Salisbury are being dealt with, referring to the empty Debenhams and BHS units in particular, as part of the council’s vision to improve the experience of the city and its appeal to shoppers and visitors.

In response Cllr Clewer said: “First thing I’ll say about the larger sites is watch this space. We are working hard on that.

“We can’t be definitive at this point but we are trying really hard to help and work with people to get them back into use.”

Victoria added: “Larger spaces are the bigger challenge, the vibrant Wiltshire grant has been set up to exactly help businesses move into those shops that have become vacant and to support them in doing so.”

Victoria referred to former pop-up shop 36 The High Street as one example of how smaller empty sites within the city centre could be used in future, with support from this new initiative.

“With the wider, larger-scale businesses, that is more of a challenge,” she added, “as we’re not going to have one business that’s willing to take it on a temporary or trial basis, because it’s such a large space.”

Hints to Primark…?

Cllr Clewer continued: “If you can get the right anchor retailer in a town it brings people in to shop which then encourages other vacant units to be filled.

“We need to be putting in particular effort supporting the sort of ‘missing tooth’ type retail units.

“And you’ve heard the rumours, let’s leave it as that.”

(The rumours: Could Primark be coming to Salisbury?)

Evening and night time economy

Referencing improvements to the city’s night time economy, Cllr Clewer said the “early evening economy is missing from many [Wiltshire] towns”.

He said there is a need to keep people in towns and cities for longer by improving the evening offering when shops have closed.

Victoria added: “It’s not just about noisy nightclubs, it’s about post-work restaurants, places like that.

“I think what we sought to do with the Central Area Framework in Salisbury is identify areas where perhaps there would be more noise and socialising and those areas which are more quieter and residential.

“That structural change takes 20 years, that is a long-term structural change that needs to be embedded.

“It is really about trying to match the needs of the local community and blend them in a way that avoids conflict.”

The future of the programme

Future focus points for the programme include public art and design, the food and drink market, and the evening and night time economy, in a bid to continue “putting Wiltshire on the map,” Victoria added.

As well as the city centre, Tidworth, Tisbury, Ludgershall, Mere, Wilton and Downton will benefit from the £1million pot.

The programme is to be discussed further at the Wiltshire Council cabinet meeting on Tuesday, June 21.

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