Northampton Town Centre Watchdog

CASTELLO FORTIOR CONCORDIA

Wish list

2013

Set out below are observations and suggestions from a Group of Northamptonians who are keen to see the cultural regeneration and economic success of their Town Centre.

All comments are intended to be constructive

Most town centres are facing difficult times resulting from “out of town” and “edge of town” retail parks together with internet retailing. They need urgent help. Time is running out!!

Introduction

  • The Town Centre should be the vital heart of the community, which is enthusiastically used by all occupation groups and all age groups, during both daytime and night time. Until this is achieved, we have failed.
     
  • Northampton as a town will always ultimately be judged by the quality of its Town Centre.
     
  • Northampton is predicted to increase its population from 200,000 to 300,000.  Anyone can make the town bigger. Not anyone can make it better. Making it substantially better should be our objective.
     
  • We should all strive to create a town centre based on the solid foundation of quality, which ensures civic pride for future generations – no quick, cheap fixes  
     
  • The Town Centre should be defined as the area within the inner ring road.  This would enable the investment of time, energy and cash, to have a more dramatic effect. This is the area the target market is avoiding.

General Suggestions

  1. Debate and decide whether the WNDC, the NCC or the NBC should have TOTAL authority and responsibility for the Town Centre’s development.
    Currently the NCC, as the highways authority, has responsibility for most of the public realm (paving, lighting, traffic regulation, street furniture, signage etc)
     
  2. Appoint a ‘Tsar’ to drive the DELIVERY of the finalised statutory CAAP (Central Area Action Plan). This should it be a high-ranking executive officer who can focus energy, resources, and creativity on the objectives. This person must have the authority and the budget to achieve the objectives.
     
  3. District centres should be for convenience shopping only. The Town Centre should be for comparison-shopping. Town Centres should not be undermined by other developments.
    There needs to be very strict planning control on increases in out-of-town & edge-of-town retail floor space. Serious Consideration should be given to PPS6.
     
  4. Town Centre cloning should be avoided
    Market Harborough is appealing because architectural vandalism has been minimalised and there is a great number of independent retailers. This diversity is very, very important.
     
  5. Encourage more street café’s – no more Pubs, unless there is a very, very convincing case.
     
  6. If considering the services of an international architect, please consider Norman Foster & William Rogers.
     
  7. Whatever is created, we should be proud of in 50 years, not embarrassed by after 5.
     
  8. There is a demographic change in the age profile of the nation.
    In the near future we can expect to see cities, regions and countries competing for people to work, live and play with them rather than leave to go elsewhere.
    People that live in and visit Northampton, will be demanding to live in  and visit the sort of environment that they seek when visiting other places.
    Providing theatres, entertainment, restaurants, exhibitions, culture, clubs, things to be proud of, and the ‘brands’ that are a part of any successful city or region, will be mandatory. This includes easy access.
    The consequence of not getting this right will be costly. A leakage of people and skills will put Northampton into a downward spiral!!
     
  9. Strong town centres are vital for competitive economies to be sustained. This includes quality recruitment to The University.
     
  10. Strong town centres are vitally important as cultural centres.
     
  11. Should we again be aiming at the creation of a Unitary Authority  
    (NBC + NCC)?  Northampton does not benefit from Unitary Authority status and responsibilities are shared by different local government organisations and other agencies.  There is a need to ensure that the Town Centre has a single agency focus – a partnership of those organisations with the power and responsibilities to make things happen in a concerted fashion.
    From April 2009, Unitary Authorites already cover 60% of England where they run all the services which used to be provided by County Councils.
     
  12. As a golden rule, architectural heritage should always be preserved. It follows that the vandalising of our architectural heritage should be criminalised.
    It should be noted that city centres that respect and preserve their heritage, normally act as a magnet to both the local population and to tourists.

Specific Suggestions

  1. Relocate the bus station, and give relentless focus to the Greyfriars development.
     
  2. The library to be upgraded but retained in its current location
     
  3. The Old Law Courts in George Row to be maximised for public use.
     
  4. The Market Square to be cleared of stalls. Future markets should include Farmers Markets, Antiques Markets, General Markets, Italian & French Markets.
    These markets to be conducted on the continental model.
    The market will only survive if the retail offer is good enough.
     
  5. The market square should also be used for frequent entertainment – both free and possibly pay to view.The entertainment should be as diverse as possible.
     
  6. Abington Street to be retained as a pedestrian area but to be softened with greenery and water features when it is upgraded. This would encourage people to meander and socialise. At the moment, it is drab and in urgent need of a makeover.
    Zero tolerance policing and a conspicuous police presence will eradicate yob culture and make the area attractive to the decent majority.
    There must be a policy implemented to disperse packs of young, intimidating males. A feeling of security is essential.
     
  7. Install a new building facade on ‘Penman’s Folly’ (the old Notre Dame)
     
  8. Ensure the Mounts swimming Pool has enough investment to make it a premium facility.
     
  9. The Town Centre to contain the following PREMIUM facilities:
    • Royal and Derngate Theatre
    • Rennie Mackintosh @ 78 Derngate
    • The Mounts Pool
    • The Central Library
    • The Market Square
    • All Saints Church
    • The Church Restaurant
    • The Central Museum
    • The Old Crown Court
    • Holy Sepulchre Church
    • St Giles Church
    • A dedicated Boot and Shoe Museum
    • A vastly upgraded Abington Street

P.S.  The Churches should all be encouraged to promote live music performances and social debates.

Parking

  1. If the population is to increase from 200,000 to 300,000 and beyond, there is a need to consider more car parking capacity.  Strive to be more user friendly to people who use cars. There should be absolutely no consideration given to any plans to build on surface car parks.
     
  2. Publish a  clear ‘parking strategy’ document that is updated every two years. This should include the exact location of the car parks, and the location of the entry.
     
  3. Publish a Parking leaflet that clearly states the total number of parking spaces and the relevant tariffs. This publication should be printed in a different colour each time the prices change
     
  4. Ensure that arterial roads and roundabouts are well groomed and free of litter and offer directions to the car parks.
     
  5. Have variable message signing for the car parks
     
  6. Publish monthly in the press, the average percentage of parking capacity used per day.  People will be surprised how low these are.  It may help to dispel the notion that there is ‘nowhere to park’
     
  7. Make parking provision and give concessions for lower paid sector workers in the Town Centre. Council staff should NOT have any advantage over the private sector.
     
  8. Car parks need to be pay on exit – not “pay and display”.  This is essential. It is insulting that 15 years after agreeing that “pay and display” is the worst possible method of charging, that this is still the method used.
     
  9. Experiment with free parking in the car parks, in order to stimulate Town Centre trade. Monitor and publish the results. It has already been proved that free parking stimulates trade. Lost revenue should be able to be claimed from central government, if it is really serious about saving our town centres from becoming ghettos of the less affluent.
     
  10. Plan a future where there is underground parking  as in Gent, Toulouse, Rouen, Ascona, Denia etc etc.
     
  11. Have a good park and ride scheme that works because it is located close enough to the Town Centre, e.g. Midsummer Meadow and Delapre Park. It is no good trying to bus people in from such a remote area as Sixfields.
     
  12. Develop public transport that is a credible alternative.
     
  13. Car parks with security staff to stay open till 11.00pm for entry and 3.00 am for exit – even if this involves the lower levels only.
     
  14. Stop rewarding those motorists who shop at “out of town” and “edge of town”  Retail Parks – whilst punishing with parking charges, those who shop in the Town Centre. Either provide free parking or charge the same at all locations so that there is a level playing field

Development

  1. Enforce the updated quality design guide for all shop  fronts and shop fascias immediately, by the use of bye-laws or existing legislation. This is a priority. Please read this websites page  dedicated to “shop fronts”.
     
  2. Categorically reject for all time the ludicrous notion of a canopy over the Market Square
     
  3. Implement a dramatic and quality upgrade for Abington Street
     
  4. No more pubs!  More restaurants please.  We need to increase the eating culture in town centres
     
  5. Veto poor building design and the use of poor building materials. No more “shed type” buildings.
     
  6. Continue to oppose the proliferation of gaming machine shops.
     
  7. Encourage individual, small company, specialist shops.  This could be done by giving VERY generous UBR concessions. This could be a government inspired initiative.
     
  8. It is better for us to be a large Market Harborough rather than a small Milton Keynes. We should aim to complement MK as an alternative dual centre and seek national top 20 status.
     
  9. Be obsessed by aesthetics and with preserving our heritage.
     
  10. Ensure that there is a good selection of residential units in excess of 1,000 sq ft, which attract retirees, young professional families  and people who are not only first time buyers.
     
  11. Vast improvement needed in the inner ring road to make it flow like a ring road should do and be the priority road.

Environment

  1. Enforce the alcohol ban in the streets
     
  2. Implement a begging ban
     
  3. Have zero tolerance to graffiti and fly posters
     
  4. Have a broken window policy on minor repairs via the Town Centre Ranger
     
  5. Employ zero tolerance policing to yob culture and anti-social behaviour. A secure environment is essential. Please read our dedicated “police” page.
     
  6. Have first class street cleaning
     
  7. Have registration of street traders and musicians
     
  8. Remove unwanted and superfluous traffic signs
     
  9. Have harmonised quality street furniture
     
  10. Have first class salvage collection
     
  11. Use CCTV to obtain high profile prosecutions for litter/vandalism/graffiti/yob behaviour
     
  12. Use Police specials to man taxi ranks at night on Fridays and Saturdays.

Any Other Business

  1. Generate and promote Town Centre cultural activities more strenuously via the lovenorthampton web site
     
  2. Have a first class rail service to London
     
  3. Complete the North West bypass
     
  4. Audit public perceptions of the Town Centre via The University Business School.
     
  5. Commission Roger Tym and Partners to conduct a “health check” on the town centre every 4 years. Please read our “Health Check” page.

Conclusions

There must be a realisation that people will only visit and use the Town Centre, if it is a better place to be, than the surrounding areas. This should not be difficult to achieve!!

We strongly suggest that the problems that face Northampton Town Centre, result from many failures in the past by ALL of us.

This includes the general public who have not been vocal enough in a constructive way.

We feel that the only way forward is for a committed and concerted effort by a team of elected Politicians, executive officers, and the general public.

We need to identify best practise and to promote it.

We need to identify poor practise and condemn it.

We also need to identify and lobby people in positions of authority who can influence and effect change.

KEY

NBC = Northampton Borough Council
NCC = Northants County Council
WNDC = West Northants Development Corporation.
CAAP = Central Area Action Plan
PPS6 = Planning Policy Statement 6.

 

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