Portas Pilot joy for Leamington Old Town

By Kevin Unitt 25/07 Updated: 27/07 08:04

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Buy photos » Traders and residents in Old Town, who have been successful in their bid secure Portas Pilot status. (s)

THE Old Town area of Leamington is set for a huge boost in prestige and attention after achieving its aim of becoming a Mary Portas Pilot Town.

It was dramatically named today (Wednesday) as one of just 15 projects - from more than 400 applications across the country – to scoop £100,000 from the government scheme, which is backed by retail guru Mary Portas and aimed at breathing life into struggling high streets.

It is hoped the cash will be matched by businesses in the area to help create a real legacy there.

Judges were particularly impressed by the Old Team team's plan to addresses a shop vacancy rate of over 20 per cent by developing a 'Heart Up' initiative encouraging independent retailers to occupy empty units.

In addition, new historic trails will be launched to express pride in the area, while derelict areas will be turned into art landmarks as the area adopts more of a 'café culture' and becomes a centre for arts, creativity and innovation.

Jeremy Ireland, team leader of the Old Town project, told the Observer: “I am incredibly pleased that all our efforts have been rewarded.

"Once we have got our heads round all the media interest we will be holding a thank-you barbecue and then starting work on a programme of plans.

“It is about far more than the cash. The good thing about this scheme is the national exposure will ensure we are accountable and there will be nowhere to hide.

“Some projects have come and gone in the area in the past but this is a great chance to really build on what went before.”

Previous bids to revitalise the Old Town area had far greater financial backing but did not always ran smoothly.

In 1999 development group Regenesis was set up with a government grant of £4.6 million – rising to an eventual £14 million over seven years – to revitalise the area.

But while some projects, such a shop frontage scheme, were deemed a success the group was regularly criticised and an official report even described its early group meetings as “chaotic”.

The 15 new Portas Pilots are in addition to 12 winners of an earlier round.

The government insist all towns which missed out will not be left behind and can still sign a national pledge to become a 'Town Team Partner' - enabling access to a package of support worth £5.5million nationwide.

More information on the Old Town bid can be found at the Facebook group entitled 'Mary Portas Bid South Leamington Old Town'.

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