ON MY recent visit to the Royal Mail’s delivery office in Richmond it was amazing to watch the parcel sorting operation under way at the beginning of the Christmas rush.

The deftness and accuracy of the team making sure the hundreds of packets and boxes were allocated to the right round was very impressive. As was the total number of parcels handled at Richmond – 35,000 a week during the Christmas peak.

The number of parcels delivered by Royal Mail, and its competitors, is growing massively with the popularity of online shopping, which in turn has implications for retail generally and our high streets.

Which brings me to last week’s news about the Government’s go-ahead for the Scotch Corner “designer outlet” retail park.

On balance, I think this is good news from the area. The hundreds of people that will be employed there represent a huge local economic boost.

Also, I think the “designer outlet” concept will attract shoppers from across the North of England and that will have benefits beyond the confines of the development.

Designer outlet retail parks contain designer retailers selling discounted products, not every-day high street brands.

Nationally, the Bicester Village outlet near Oxford has been a huge success.

Of course there are fears about the impact on neighbouring town centres but I think these have been largely addressed by the developer’s revised plans, which ensure the designer village is complementary rather competing directly with the centres of Richmond, Northallerton, Bedale and Leyburn.

Also, I have a great deal of faith in the ability of our North Yorkshire market towns to adapt, innovate and thrive in a fast-changing retail environment.

There is plenty of evidence that they have done just that over the last 20 years with all the challenges traditional high streets have faced – including out-of-town shopping developments.

Businesses in both Northallerton and Richmond are working hard to ensure the future prosperity of their town centres. Both are looking to create business improvement districts (BIDS), an initiative whereby a small levy on businesses in the central area pays for improvements the businesses chose. These could be promotions, extra cleaning, events and festivals, or boosting the night-time economy.

The BID in Northallerton was recently approved in a ballot of all the eligible businesses and traders and should get to work next year. It has been particularly encouraging to see independent traders and some of the big national businesses working together.

The BID initiative in Richmond is in its early stages but should move to a ballot in due course. All businesses will have their say.

I have also been encouraged by initiatives in the other markets towns in the constituency.

Whether it is food festivals in Stokesley, Christmas fayres in Great Ayton or nostalgia weekends in Leyburn, in all of them businesses are coming together to offer something that outof-town retail parks and online emporia cannot compete with – characterful environments, vibrancy, personal service and a sense of community.