A Message From Berwick Town Council
09 February 2023
We're disappointed that the journalists responsible for the article in The Sun, published on February 8th, didn't actually contact Berwick upon Tweed Town Council, despite their claim to have done so in their article.
We'd love to have a conversation with them to tell them the other side of the story. We're not sure how they overlooked us; their photographer would have had to walk past our office to take the photos used in the article. They might have been staying in one of our lovely boutique hotels and bed and breakfasts, or in the recently opened Premier Inn down by the historic Quayside. Berwick thrives on its ability to offer a wide range of accommodation, and we think there's scope for more. There are plenty of reviews of Berwick as a place to stay in quality newspapers like the Telegraph or magazines like the Spectator - we'd love to add The Sun to that list.
Reference is made in the article to shop windows on empty units being decorated to brighten up the town - we could have given the photographer directions to the shop that's already been decorated in this way, and we could have explained our plans to do more. The offer's still open, and any landlords with empty shops who want to talk to us about this just need to give us a call. Who wouldn't take the chance to promote that scheme in The Sun?
We haven't been given a chance to reply to the points made in the article, and we know some of what we're about to say may be unknown because we've not been as good as we could be at blowing our own trumpet. It's a shame if Sun readers don't know about the Northumbria in Bloom prizes won by the town pre-pandemic, or the work we're doing to make our town more sustainable as well as more attractive. Thousands of trees are being planted in Berwick, from community orchards and woodlands to the commemorative trees to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in the town centre, and there's more to come. We've got parks in the shadow of our medieval walls that we're proud of. Who wouldn't like the chance to talk to the press about that?
As a council we know there are challenges that towns right across the UK share, and we know there are challenges that are unique to Berwick. Three major building projects either in progress or planned around the town centre mean it sometimes feels as if the town is holding its breath waiting for the diggers to start rolling. A new hospital to the north of the town centre, just outside the medieval walls, a new theatre and arts centre for the centre of town, and the emerging plans to bring the wonderful Georgian barracks back to life amount to a massive investment in our towns future. We're used to major projects like our new leisure centre (one year old this week) and our amazing new seaside play park in Spittal and we're eager for more. We think we've got a great story to tell before we even get to mention our wonderful beaches and astonishing coastline. If journalists tell us they're coming we're more than happy to show them the way to the boat trips to meet our resident dolphins and seals in their natural environment in the beautiful estuary.
We hear what people say about car parking in Berwick because it's always going to be a challenge getting cars into and out of a medieval walled town, but we're also a little baffled. The changes to high street parking date back more than a decade, and created accessible spaces for blue badge holders and more room for pedestrians. We've had free town centre parking since 2013,our partners at NCC keep adding new spaces every chance they get, but we're lobbying for more, and for cleverer use of the spaces already available. We want to talk to anyone who'll listen about how we address all the challenges coming forward around parking, around retro fitting charging points in historic streets, and around what sustainable public transport is going to look like when the rural bus network keeps shrinking, whether that's a conversation with The Sun or our MP who we have regular contact with.
It's important that everyone gets a chance to express their views, and to have their views heard, like the residents quoted in the Sun article, but that applies to local councils too. Retail is changing, and that means high streets are changing, and we get that not everybody is happy about that. Out of town retail parks are a huge challenge, but the number of people shopping there suggests they're hugely popular too. Berwick has hundreds of listed buildings in its historic town centre; demolishing them to make way for modern retail units was never an option, and retailers tell us they want modern units big enough for their range of goods. That made the decisions very hard for Berwick, and we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't point out that centrally appointed Planning Inspectors took away much of the control from local councils in cases like Berwick's Tesco development back in 2008.
We know that government gets this, because some towns, worse affected than Berwick, get funding through special schemes like the Towns Fund. We'd love it if The Sun would help us make the case that more towns like Berwick also deserve that kind of support and funding to help us cope with changes that are all too often beyond our immediate control. The thriving independent traders in streets like Bridge Street and West Street in Berwick are shining examples of what could be done if we had the resources and the local control necessary to work with landlords who often want help to address the impact of the changes on their properties on our high streets.
We can agree with retailers that there needs to be a frank debate about business rates and how we balance the retail market in favour of high street businesses as opposed to out of town and online retail but the editors of national newspapers often seem to have more influence in shaping that debate than democratically elected local councils. That's why, if a journalist from The Sun had approached us we'd have loved to have this conversation, and that's why we're putting this press release out, in the hope that there will be a national debate where we can get people to listen to what we think our town needs, and deserves.
As we say, we think Berwick's got a big, complicated story to tell, and we'll take any chance we can to tell it.