WHAT is the best way to ensure a vibrant, sustainable future for our town and city centres?

That’s the multi-million pound question plaguing planners, retail experts and business people up and down the country.

The advent of out of town retail complexes with acres of free parking, combined with the boom in internet shopping has seen town centres searching for their unique selling point in a bid to regain footfall.

On Wednesday, the North East England Chamber of Commerce published a wide-ranging report with a series of recommendations about how towns can thrive.

The report is clear that retail alone cannot save our town centres – a much wider vision is needed.

Shopping is now increasingly a leisure activity, and finding somewhere to stop for a nice cuppa and cake or a bit of lunch is as much a part of the experience as the shops themselves.

Creating more good quality accommodation in the heart of our communities is also key, as is making sure the owners of the existing premises are kept up to scratch. Nothing drags a town centre down like a succession of badly maintained, vacant buildings.

Rachel Anderson: We'll be supporting our town centres - but will you?

In addition, residents themselves must play a part by having pride in their towns by keeping them tidy – and most crucial of all, using the shops and businesses on their doorstep.

Making these changes really does need a committed team effort from within the community, combined with investment from both public and private sectors.