The High Road – Where Change Must Start.
When we look at a town, any town, we invariably judge it by its centre. Usually that means its traditional retail High Street – widely recognised as the benchmark of local success or decline. But, everybody knows that these have become areas that have been under threat for some time, driven by perfectly understandable trends in retail shopping habits, now increasingly focussed on out of town shopping and on-line buying.
The classic 'solution' is to diversify the look and feel of the shopping street to diversify its use, by encouraging the shopper by providing somewhere to relax with a coffee – or more – and to offer services that are in demand and therefore attract, such as gyms and other useful fashionable service providers.
It seems to me that this has worked reasonably well in Beeston and that the High Road, despite everything, has survived better than some. But further pressures are inevitable, evident even before the Covid emergency that has pointed many more towards on-line. It is clear that more innovative action will be needed to allow the High Road to remain the centrepiece.
Its been done in the past – when the Silk Mill closed at the beginning of the 20th century, what seemed to be a disaster for employment led to its replacement with purpose-built shops. The transformation of what had been an ugly High Road factory frontage became the catalyst that made it a shopping street that set the standard for much of the last century.
My suggestion is that, like then, we look more closely at a greater degree of change of use while we ensure that the quality of what we do is of a high standard. Ideally, in my view, we should retain a sustainable number of attractive and in-demand retail outlets and replace the surplus of shops, often with under-utilised upper floors, with innovative residential units. Put simply, there is too much of what we no longer need and too little of what we do.
I hear “Easier said than done!” - and I fully understand. I am no architect, developer or planner but I know what I would prefer to end up with. In summary – a High Road that is of quality, attractive and relevant. I believe that local residents want to be able to still recognise the area they have known but they would welcome the transformation of some of the less attractive parts for residential use – something for the young and aspiring in a style and quality that would add to the whole. More green spaces would be welcome too.
“Too complicated and impossible to get everyone on board!” - traditionally yes, but Covid is intensifying retail pressures at a vulnerable time. We need measures in place now to protect the High Road from the extremes of market forces, so that in the longer term these broader objectives can be achieved.
In summary, my suggestion is to prepare an agreed strategy to protect and manage the High Road area, approved by the appropriate authorities, that would define overall objectives and design. that would drive specific changes for the best, over time, as the opportunity arises. Its difficult, yes. But it shouldn't be impossible.
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