New residents' group formed to restore Epsom town centre's economic vitality
A new group is being formed dedicated to restoring the economic vitality of Epsom town centre.
Friends of Epsom Town, which launches next month, aims to bring together residents, businesses and organisations so they can help shape town centre issues.
It is being launched by Liberal Democrat members of Epsom and Ewell Council on July 23, but they stress the group will be non-political.
The Lib Dems said the group is a response to the ‘Queen of Shops’ Mary Portas’ review into how to revive the high street which she presented to the Government in December last year.
The review suggested community groups should be formed as a way of engaging local councils with town centre users.
With the council recently being awarded a £100,000 grant to reinvigorate the local economy, the councillors believe this is the right time to launch the Friends of Epsom Town.
They want a town centre manager, suggested in Plan E, the council’s long-term planning document concerning the town centre, to be appointed and hope the new group will stimulate discussions about other issues such as how to develop the market.
Councillor Julie Morris, leader of the Lib Dems in the council, said: "There are a number of friends groups already and we hope that many of those people will be interested in a new entity dealing entirely with our economic situation and restoring its vitality.
"Some friends groups only pop up when there's an issue, but our economic vitality and sustaining it is a permanent issue and Friends of Epsom Town could become a key consultee when it comes to spending the grant money.
"Businesses have their say, but there's nothing for individual people who shop and visit.
"They have lots of ideas and suggestions as to how we can encourage more people to use our shops and facilities."
Maria Johnson, who lives close to Epsom town centre, said she was thrilled the group was forming after contacting a number of councillors with concerns about Epsom’s future.
She said: "I only moved to Epsom a year ago but even within that time I can see that it has gone down and a lot of people do not feel it is as vibrant as it was.
"So many shops have closed in the space of a year and I was particularly sad to see Waterstones go.
"We have three or four big shops in Epsom and if we were to lose any of them it would be critical.
"The idea of the group is to improve the vitality of the town centre, working with the council. A lot of people will get engaged and bring their own skills to work in partnership with it.
"It will bring a different slant to the debate and stimulate discussions of the key strategic issues facing Epsom town centre."
Ms Johnson said there are a number of issues the group could consider.
She added: "I would like the group to consider how to take the market forward. There have been good improvements made, but there are many great options we can look at for it.
"Parking is another issue, as well as looking at how the town’s charity shops can engage with people and present themselves in the best way to attract donations for their causes.
"And, of course, how do we attract more business to Epsom?"
Residents’ Association Councillor Neil Dallen, chairman of the strategy and resources committee, welcomed the group and said listening to residents is “what the council is for”.
He said: “In principle, it sounds like a good idea and the Residents’ Association are happy to negotiate and talk with residents as that is what we do.
“We will now talk with the Lib Dems to see what the terms of reference of the group are so there is no political bias and it can achieve what it aims.
“I am hoping something very positive will come out of the meeting as the town centre is one of the council’s key priorities – we already have Plan E.
“I think we are working towards the same objectives – for the town centre to thrive despite the fact that that the country is struggling.”
Lib Dem town councillor Alison Kelly encouraged people from all parts of the borough to join the group and have their say.
She said: "There are differences of opinion on how the night-time economy should be managed which are unresolved and there's no real opportunity for the people of say, northern Ewell, to have their say on the principal town in their borough.
"We want people from Ewell to come to this meeting as well and tell us what they think.
"How can we attract better shops and more people to use them? It really doesn't matter where you live, as a resident of the area you are welcome to become a Friend of Epsom."
The chief executive of Epsom and Ewell Council will be the main speaker at the first meeting of the Friends of Epsom Town at 7.30pm on July 23, at Epsom Methodist Church. The meeting will be open to everyone.