Northampton Falling Footfall – A Result of Failing Policies?

Northampton Town Centre has to be given the priority it deserves

Falling Footfall – A Result of Failing Policies

The very disappointing news that the footfall in Northampton in the last year has fallen by 6.41% against a forecast increase target of 2% effectively missing their target by 8.41% alongside the huge increase in the number of vacant properties in the Town Centre from 45 in 2010 to 77 in 2011 raises very serious concerns and questions about the future.

The fall in the number of visitors to Northampton in the last year also has to be put into context with the 2.2% increase in 2010 when arguably the impact of the worldwide banking crisis and economic downturn was supposed to have reached its peak.

What of course it illustrates that the Conservative – Liberal Democrat Governments “we have an economic strategy and policies to revive the economy and reduce national borrowing” policies, that they still maintain is working, is as Labour have been saying for some time simply not working, with borrowing at an all-time high, the interest on the national debt increasing and the economy in recession which is being reflected in the high streets and town centres up and down the country.

Northampton is a barometer and typical example of the failure of the national coalition parties to invest in growth and employment.

The recently published results by the Borough Council also begs the question why the Cabinet Member for Regeneration Planning and Enterprise said in his January report to full Council that,

“Footfall figures for November 2011 show an increase of around 1.6% in comparison with 2010”.

and again in his report in March this year that,

“December footfall figures for the Town Centre were up more than 8% on the previous year, building on the trend identified in November. This is the result of the administration’s priority to support town centre businesses with more visitor attractions and events”

It may of course be that the number of visitors did increase in November and December and I distinctly remember that when it was asked if the milder December weather in 2011 compared with the extreme weather in 2010 had perhaps contributed to more people coming to the town the response from Cllr Tim Hadland was very clear, memorable and unequivocal,

“the people of Northampton are a tough breed and the weather conditions would not have put them off, the increase in visitors was entirely down to the Conservative administration’s policies”

I agree about the strength of character of the people of Northampton which is why they should not be taken for granted or treated with contempt as the Conservatives continually demonstrate is their approach, but importantly if we are being told that any success is entirely down to the administration’s policies then conversely any failure has also to be put down to the same policies.

Effectively it appears that in the 12 months to April this year people visiting the town was up in November and December and down the rest of the year.

Without investment is this the future of Northampton Town Centre?

Those who have been following the Legal and General Grosvenor Centre issue will obviously be asking if and what influence the reduced numbers of people visiting Northampton had on their decision to stop work on the Grosvenor Development plans.

It will also raise the question from those who have argued that should the Council revisit the whole of the Central Area Action Plan with seventy-seven vacant properties in the town.

It is an argument that will continue until a resolution of the Grosvenor Centre issues is found.

On the positive side we know that the footfall figures in Northampton town centre are calculated using cameras in the Market Square and Abington Street and that the figures are compiled for Northampton Borough Council’s town centre team by an independent company, Springboard, who operate footfall cameras in hundreds of town centres, shopping centres and retail parks around the country, so at least they are reliable.

I can’t help wondering though if the thousands of primary school children who lined the Market Square and Abington Street for the fantastic Olympic Torch event will be counted as “footfall” in the July figures.

Of course, and I have argued this on many occasions it is not necessarily the footfall that is all important but the number of bags that people are carrying when moving around the town centre having purchased goods from the hard pressed retailers.

The decline in the number of visitors to Northampton are a major cause of concern impacting on the whole of the Borough and one that has to be given priority in order to support the excellent work being carried out by the Town Centre BID and prevent the town from entering into terminal decline.

It is time the Borough and County Council Conservatives started to take Northampton as the County Town seriously and set about making it a place where people want to invest and where people want to come and spend their time and money.