A COUNCIL which boasts several relatively prosperous market towns has admitted it is facing a tough task in bidding for a share of a £675m government fund for high streets facing significant challenges.

Hambleton District Council’s cabinet heard while the authority had initially hoped to lodge a bid covering all five of the district’s market towns, government criteria meant the application would have to be restricted to Northallerton, despite it featuring a strong retail offer.

The meeting was told the economic success of Northallerton, “the retailing heart of Hambleton” - which in January was named in Halifax’s annual quality of life survey as the fourth best place to live in the UK - would count against it in the bid.

Moreover, in its prospectus for the Future High Streets Fund, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government highlights in bold font: “We will not accept bids covering town centre areas that are not facing significant challenges.”

However, launching the fund in December, James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government stated the government was looking to work with “visionary local leaders who understand what their local communities will need in the years to come”.

He added: “We want to see the regeneration of our town centres through innovative proposals around transport, housing delivery and our public services.”

The authority’s economic development boss, Councillor Peter Wilkinson, told the meeting Hambleton’s market towns faced challenges such as some of the highest rents in the North-East and small shop sizes.

The council’s deputy chief executive Mick Jewitt added presenting a successful application for funding would be “a challenge”, as those scrutinising the bids would look at issues such as deprivation and empty properties.

However, he said he remained optimistic that Northallerton could land some of the funding.

Mr Jewitt said: “It’s also about having a clear vision of your market towns going forward and having ambition. The government is also interested in vision and ambition that might be transferable to other areas. We may be able to demonstrate a convincing case that this council has ambitious projects for the future which are innovative, which could potentially act as exemplars for elsewhere.”

Cllr Wilkinson added: “I have to manage expectations. There is only £675m and there will be a lot of towns throughout the country applying for parts of this grant. There will be stiff competition from towns in economic decline, while I wouldn’t say Northallerton is.”