Northampton – Number of Visitors Falling – Why?

Abington Street

Northampton – Number of Visitors Falling – Why?

There are many reason for the huge number, almost 500,000 fewer  visitors who decided not to come to Northampton during April and the end of September 2012.

The data for the period October to December 2012 is due to be published at the end of this month so we will have to wait and see whether the trend in declining numbers is continuing.

I have a number of occasions raised the issue and asked for an explanation of what actions the Northampton Conservatives have taken to try to understand why the numbers has fallen so dramatically this year, thinking that the administration would at the least want to understand why half a million potential customers have voted with their feet.

Of course one reason may be the marked increase in on-line shopping with a number of established businesses in Northampton closing their doors and moving to provide their services over the internet.

Another reason has clearly been the impact of the double dip recession that resulted in the failure of large-scale multi-national companies which has seen a number of stores close both in the town centre and out-of-town retail centres.

All of which alongside the closure of a number of independent retailers has seen the dramatic increase in empty shops and offices in Northampton.

However on the positive side the impact of implementing the ‘Up to 1 hour Free Parking’ in the Borough Council owned Pay on Foot Car Parks we are told saw during the same 6 month period a take up by almost 100,000 people which to some extent contributed to the towns economy.

Incidentally this was at a cost of £60,000 to the Northampton Tax Payer in a loss of car parking income but which in terms of the value to the towns businesses is something that I argued at the time of its implementation was an acceptable result of putting the policy in as soon after the election as possible as what was called at the time Phase One.

Phase Two was intended to install Pay on Foot across the town in the Borough Council owned car parks so that instead of having ‘Up to 1 hour free parking’ in the existing pay on foot car parks visitors would all have ‘One Hour Free Car Parking’ where whatever length of time visitors parked the first hour would be free and they would only pay from the second hour and onwards.

It would of course mean that with one hour free that the cost of staying in town for 2 hours would only cost 60p encouraging people to stay longer.

The knock on impact of the reduced footfall is not only on the economic activity in the town but also on the bus companies who because of the fall in passenger numbers have reduced services with over 4400 fewer bus journeys between April and September 2012.

The reduced services of course may also be a result of the Northampton Conservatives cuts in subsidies for some groups of people and uncertainty over the future of Northampton as a modern forward-looking place.

What was surprising, (or perhaps not), was the reasons given in response to being questioned on the issue which if it wasn’t so serious would be laughable.

The initial response was to be told “not to look at the numbers, i.e. the 500,000 fewer visitors than the year before because the more accurate data was to look at the percentage change from the year before”

I’m sure I don’t need to point out the absurdity of this reasoning, but will anyway.

The method of working out the percentage change in footfall is to take the difference between the actual number of people who visited in 2011 and 2012 and do a simple calculation to provide the percentage. Effectively as any junior school child could tell us it is just a different way to give the same number.

Perhaps those who provided the explanation realised what they had said because when asked again at the end of last year the reason given had changed to,

“The two monitors for footfall are in Abington Street near Marks and Spencer’s and the Market Square near the former Millets shop and because of the amount of rain between April and September people who came to the town either on the bus or parking in town centre car parks went straight into the Grosvenor Centre to avoid the weather which means they didn’t pass the recording devices”

It may of course be true that some people didn’t pass the monitoring points but on the other hand some people will have passed them more than once during a visit to the town.

What is ridiculous is to suggest that the people of Northampton are so weak that they will only come into town if the weather is nice and dry!!

If their argument is to stand up we have to apparently forget that we had a drought between April and July, even seeing the fountain switched off to save water and with a hose pipe ban across Northampton and that at the same time it rained every day, which of course it didn’t.

So why an earth were such reasons and excuses given?

Who knows?

What’s important is that we need to fully understand the reasons people giving for not coming to Northampton and how much worse would  it have been had we not had the Safari Event, Queens Jubilee, Olympic Torch, St Crispin’s Fair, the Carnival and the Godiva Event which we are told attracted over 200,000 people into the town centre.

We also need to understand the reasons to be able to provide the support the excellent Northampton Town Centre Business Improvement District (BID) who have and continue to work so hard, in a harsh economic environment to promote the town and support businesses deserve.

Only when we understand why Northampton people are not coming to the town will we understand what is needed to bring them back, whether it is as simple as keeping the town centre clean, encouraging more independent retails, building more houses, implementing phase two of the free car parking policy etc. will any administration be able to develop policies to reverse the decline.

Continuing to give glib, absurd and nonsensical reasons will not help resolve and will actually hinder the process.

It is why Northampton Labour have over the past 12 months spent a great deal of time Listening to Northampton so we can work with the people of Northampton to bring long-term success to the town and not as we are seeing from the Northampton Conservatives a series of announcements of superficial changes which whilst many are welcome sadly mask the seriousness of the situation.

Will they Listen and try to understand – Sadly given their clear objection to consulting with and listening to the people of Northampton, I doubt it.