AN expert in town centre management is returning to St Helens to head up a new team that will be tasked with reviving its struggling shopping zone.
Ged Gibbons, formerly a town centre manager for St Helens, will aim to create a vision for the high street, which is suffering from store closures and decreasing numbers of shoppers.
Mr Gibbons, 55, has been handpicked by St Helens Council Leader Barrie Grunewald to head a new town centre commission, which will be will be backed by a £1million improvement fund as the council examines ways of “maintaining the town centre as the vibrant, commercial heartbeat of the borough”.
Political leaders have come under increasing fire from residents who believe the town has fallen behind neighbours such as Warrington and Widnes.
Critics argue there needs to be a bridge between independent and high street retailers, shopping centres, private landlords and the council.
Speaking at the annual meeting of council on Wednesday, St Helens Council leader Barrie Grunewald announced the creation of the new commission.
Councillor Grunewald said: “The town centre is vital. It creates jobs, provides leisure opportunities and reflects how we are perceived throughout the rest of the region.
“The more people we can attract, the more likely it is that they’ll spend money in our shops.”
Before launching his own consultancy business, Mr Gibbons was chief operating officer of Liverpool City Central Business Improvement District.
He worked for the council as St Helens Town Centre manager for several years until 2007 when he moved to Liverpool.
Grunewald added: “Ged Gibbons has an enormous amount of experience in maximising the potential of town and city centres and we are looking forward to working with him over the next few months.”
Some critics argue a lack of leadership in the town centre has left the area rudderless while battling a recession, internet shopping and competition from giant shopping complexes.
Discussing the town centre’s plight in an interview with the Star in May, Mr Gibbons suggested the council should consider reinstating the town centre manager’s position, reconnecting a partnership between the local authority and private businesses, and a review of parking charges as an initial ways of reviving the area’s fortunes.