Morecambe’s Portas Pilot Town scheme - one year on

Victoria Street in Morecambe.
Victoria Street in Morecambe.

Visitor chief reporter GREG LAMBERT investigates why plans to revamp a 
Morecambe high street with ‘Portas Pilot Town’ money appear to have stalled.

It’s been a year since Morecambe was awarded £100,000 to transform Victoria Street.

With this windfall came status for the resort as a Mary Portas Pilot Town, named after TV retail guru Mary Portas, nicknamed ‘Mary, Queen of Shops’.

Ms Portas was recruited by the Government to help revive the UK’s shopping streets, which had become ghost towns during the recession, and the cash bid earned Morecambe status as a flagship town.

But in the 12 months since champagne corks were popped on Victoria Street in celebration, what precisely has happened?

“Absolutely nothing,” says Sandwich Emporium cafe boss, Cath Mahood.

“They’ve put in five new flower pots and that’s it.”

Mark Stevenson, who runs a lap top repair shop on the street, agrees. “They had a street market at Easter.

“It wasn’t particularly busy. I don’t think stallholders did great.”

Traders are worried things have actually got worse on Victoria Street over the past year.

Two traditional high street shops, a greengrocer and a butcher, both shut recently, victims of the consumer trend towards chain supermarkets and internet shopping.

This appears to be the national trend for Portas Pilot Towns.

Ten out of the first 12 to receive the Government grant, including Bedford, Wolverhampton and Nelson, hadmore empty shops than before after the first year.

Does this mean the Portas scheme has been a flop?

“On the face of it not a lot is happening but there’s a lot happening in the background,” says David Parkinson.

David, who runs an accountancy business on Victoria Street, is also a member of the Town Team, the ‘think tank’ of businesspeople tasked with spending the Portas money.

He says the Town Team has two years to spend the £100,000, which could be stretched to three.

But to date only £6,000 has been spent, most on the street market.

David says another market may happen at Christmas but admits “they are not the answer”.

So the Town Team has other ideas, such as opening a Town Shop.

This would not only sell Morecambe-themed items but also offer business help, jobs advice and training, possibly in the empty former Furniture Matters unit opposite Barclays.

Other projects in the pipeline include opening ‘pop-up shops’ in empty units, a road show marketing campaign to promote the town and a general tidy-up of the street.

Mark Stevenson would certainly welcome this, saying there has been too much talk and not enough action.

“I want them to do something with the pavements, paint the buildings, maybe chop down the single tree (outside Ratcliffe and Bibby) because it looks out of place.”

David thinks all Morecambe traders need to get behind the Town Team. “Trade on Victoria Street doesn’t necessarily benefit Queen Street and Pedder Street, but it’s all part of the bigger picture.”

Galloway’s Society for the Blind have bought The Visitor building on Victoria Street and will be moving in soon.

David also sees the former Crystal T’s nightclub and The Victoria pub buildings as key to the street’s recovery.

“So much could be done once the (Crystal T’s building) is back in use,” he says. “But until then the street does look down in the mouth.

“It would be nice to get Mary Portas up here but I’m not sure if she has been distancing herself due to the negativity in the national media.”