On the 30th April, I published a survey in the Newton News that asked a series of questions designed to improve my understanding of how the residents of Newton Aycliffe would like to see the town centre improved and regenerated.

Since my election as the MP for Sedgefield in December 2019, I have held regular meetings with the Aycliffe Town Centre Partnership, Durham County Council, local councillors and Freshwater to discuss ideas about what changes we could plausibly make to the town centre and what funding would be needed to achieve this. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has meant that there has not been as much progress made on actioning these ideas, however, in recent weeks, there has been a shift in the makeup of Durham County Council and the Government’s announcement of the Levelling Up fund. Both of the aforementioned events have presented us with the perfect opportunity to move forward with progressive plans for the town centre and really deliver the regeneration that is desperately needed. This survey was the perfect platform to build our ideas upon and a way of involving Newton Aycliffe residents in all parts of the process.

It was decided that we would allow a month for people to respond to our survey, either online or physically. I am hopeful that as the process moves forward, we will be able to continue to interact with the public and ensure that any changes made are what residents of Newton Aycliffe believe will be beneficial to their town. If, after reading the comments below, you want to add further comment, please get in touch.

Key Findings:

Following close analysis of the results, there were four key findings that give a greater outline of what the priorities are in terms of the town centre for the residents of Newton Aycliffe and what changes they would like to see made to the town centre. The findings are as follows.

Small Independent Businesses – It is widely accepted that one of the most important aspects of the town centre regeneration project is ensuring that the units that are currently stood empty on the high street are filled. There has naturally been debate over what kind of shops or businesses should fill these empty units. There has been suggestions of bars and restaurants, however, in response to question 5 of our survey, which asked what type of businesses they would like to see fill the empty units, over 40% of participants said that they would like to see smaller and more medium sized, independently run businesses.

As a Conservative, I am incredibly passionate about seeing the emergence of small, independently run, businesses on our high street to help boost the local economy and stimulate job creation. We already have a number of successful small businesses on the high street, and I think as we come out of Covid-19 and begin our recovery, we have an excellent opportunity to bring more of these to Newton Aycliffe.

In order to do this, I am going to look to work with the Town Council, County Council, Freshwater and the Government to see how we can further stimulate the engagement of small businesses to our town, tackle the issue of the extremely high rentable value of units in the town centre and encourage potential entrepreneurs to take the huge step of setting up their businesses in Newton Aycliffe.

Entertainment Venues – In answer to question 3 of our survey, ‘what developments/improvements do you think would be most beneficial to the town centre?’, 25% of respondents said they would like to see the addition of entertainment venues to the town centre, for example a bowling alley or cinema. At present, the closest cinema to Newton Aycliffe is Darlington, however I believe they would be a wonderful addition to Newton Aycliffe. It would be a catalyst for a stimulation to the local economy, increasing footfall in the town centre thus benefiting the other businesses and charity shops.

A cinema or bowling alley has the potential to not only increase footfall in the town centre but also attract more hospitality to Newton Aycliffe. Cinemas and bowling alleys go hand in hand with bars and, in particular, restaurants, both of which would increase employment in the area and boost the local economy. I look forward to exploring the different options we have with the Council.

The Return of a Market – As I am sure many of you are aware, Newton Aycliffe used to have a thriving market with a wide range of products available. It was a great shame that traders stopped trading there, after 40 years, in 2014. With this in mind, I was delighted that 85% of respondents said that they believe Newton Aycliffe would benefit from the return of a market. This is a view I certainly share and look forward to working hard to make this happen.

While there is not yet a consensus on what form this market should take or what kind of stalls people would like to see, it is positive that there is a desire for a market to return to the town centre and once again provide a much needed boost to the town.

A Community Space – Question 11 asked ‘The local Police Force are currently developing plans to open a ‘community hub’ in the town centre, where both children and adults can go to socialise, learn and seek support. Do you think this will benefit the town and the local community?’. 94% of respondents said they do believe that this would benefit the town, again a view that I certainly share.

This is an idea or proposal that I have discussed with the local police force at length. I have listened to the reasons they believe Newton Aycliffe is in need of a space like this and the challenges that they have faced trying to turn the idea into reality. Therefore, I understand what needs to be done to open a space such as this and which groups and organisations we need to work with moving forward.

This space would not only benefit young children in Newton Aycliffe, keeping them off the streets and giving them somewhere to socialise, but also vulnerable adults or adults who are in need at any given time. It would be a wonderful asset to the town.

Final Comment – I would just like to take this opportunity again to thank everyone who participated in the survey. I look forward to continuing to hold discussions with relevant stake holders in the town centre and organisations who can help deliver on the much-needed regeneration project.

I do hope that we can deliver on the four key changes that I have outlined above and use those as a platform to help Newton Aycliffe thrive as a town with new jobs and investment in the area.

I want to work with the public every step of the way on this project, so please, if you have any other ideas or comments, do not hesitate to get in touch with me and my team.

Paul Howell

Member of Parliament for Sedgefield