Radio Interview – Makes You Think

Ignoring Town Centre fall in visitors will lead to terminal decline
Ignoring Town Centre fall in visitors will lead to terminal decline

Radio Interview – Makes You Think

On Wednesday morning I appeared (why do they say appeared on radio?), anyway to be more accurate I was interviewed on BBC Northampton about the decline in the number of people visiting Northampton.

As someone who is not naturally comfortable in public speaking I’ve had to decide whether to operate from a basis of trying to control not only the agenda and direction of questions, usually in the political world meaning avoiding interviews or being asked questions in favour of giving prepared speeches.

Or the alternative to simply answer questions as they arise.

The easiest option is always the first because you can basically say what you want without facing any kind of challenge the benefit being that when it is written for you a grasp of the issue is not necessary, the disadvantage being that statements you have made come back to haunt you.

I have written on a number of occasions over the past two years not only about the seriousness of falling numbers of shoppers and visitors to Northampton on the economic impact on businesses but also about the blasé attitude of the Northampton Conservatives who dismiss it as unimportant.

Last Monday night at the Borough Council Budget meeting the attitude took an even more serious turn when on at least two occasions in presenting his budget the Leader of the Council, Cllr David Macintosh boasted that his policies have attracted “thousands of people to the town”.

As is evident by the footfall performance data collected by the Borough Council and which falls within the responsibility of Cllr Mackintosh the number of visitors in the past two years since he took control of the Council has fallen by over 1.1 million and in the Christmas period last year fell by over 470,000.

So why an earth does he persists in denying his own evidence?

It does his integrity no good but most and more importantly is of no help to the hard pressed businesses if the Leader of the Council is refusing to accept that there is a major problem.

This brings me back to the radio interview.

Given the seriousness of the issue on the long-term economic viability of many businesses and impact on the Legal and General economic viability consideration whether to go ahead with the £250 million Grosvenor Centre extension I was surprised that Cllr Mackintosh has apparently refused to comment.

I have to admit that it makes a face to face interview more relaxed and especially when it is carried out by a highly professional radio interviewer like Stuart Linnell MBE who clearly does his homework and is willing to ask questions designed to ‘bottom out’ the issue.

I should say I prefer the face to face interview rather than a telephone interview if only because it is more conversational the problem, if it is a problem, is that you can’t rehearse answers.

Northampton Conservatives claims that new bus station will bring thousand of people back into the two centre are ridiculous
Northampton Conservatives claims that new bus station will bring thousand of people back into the two centre are ridiculous

What the interview did raise was a number of questions that in answering them got me thinking about the ludicrous claims being made by Cllr Mackintosh about what the Northampton Conservatives  are doing to bring “thousands of people” into Northampton.

The first Conservative claim that Cllr Mackintosh has been using for over 18 months is that the new Northgate Bus Station which starts full service operations on the 2nd March will bring more people into the town.

He has also claimed on numerous occasions that the new Railway Station would also bring people to the town.

Strictly speaking of course both the Bus and Rail Station will bring people to Northampton as they always have but will also we should remember be the points of departure from the town.

The claim that the new facilities will increase footfall is as ludicrous as it is ridiculous.

I have travelled extensively throughout the UK, Europe and the Rest of the World quite using bus/coach and rail stations during which time I have never travelled to admire the stations but simply used them as an arrival/departure facility.

The people who already visit Northampton by public transport will continue to do so and of course for those waiting for a bus in the Northgate Bus Station it will be more comfortable.

The same cannot be said for those who will have to wait for their services in the Drapery and if we are to suspend scepticism for a minute and as the Conservatives would have us believe the declining footfall is due to the weather it is a good bet that people suffering the climate in the Drapery will stop coming to town.

The other claim about how the Borough Council administration are addressing the issue of falling visitors by offering FREE parking as an incentive was also raised.

FREE PARKING is costing every Council Tax Payer over £16 a year in subsidy
FREE PARKING is costing every Council Tax Payer over £16 a year in subsidy

For those who drive into Northampton and for businesses the offer of two hours parking FREE and weekend parking FREE is clearly something they will accept and be grateful for.

But let’s be very clear there is no such thing as my old granny would say as something that is FREE and if a politician tells you they are handing you something for FREE you can bet they are picking your pocket with the hand you can’t see.

This year the Northampton Conservatives have to find £646,000 to extend the FREE parking to two hours which when added to the already committed budget for Up to 1 hour FREE parking brings the total over £1 million.

So here’s the rub,

Every person in Northampton who pay Borough Council Tax are therefore subsidising the cost of FREE parking to the tune of £16.60 a year which is the equivalent to a 6.5% increase in the Borough Council Tax.

Effectively Northampton residents and tax payers who use public transport to travel to Northampton and those who never visit the town are subsidising those who drive.

Given the increases in Council Tax, wage freezes, inflation, cuts in Council Tax Housing Scheme affecting all residents combined with the refusal of Northampton Conservatives to accept a cut in special allowances whilst giving themselves a 23% increase in allowances at the County Council people will be justified in asking why they are paying more for less.

FREE – Hardly,

But it makes a very good political strap line even if it isn’t strictly true.

BBC Radio has important daily role in the community
BBC Radio has important daily role in the community

What the interview demonstrates by raising the questions and making us think carefully about what is happening is the value of Local Radio to the Community because it reaches and engages with thousands of people on a daily basis who otherwise wouldn’t know what is really happening.

So, thank you to BBC Northampton for taking the issue of falling footfall seriously.

Now here is a prediction.

Over the next 12 months we will be told that the footfall has increased and not only that but the evidence will prove it?


The current footfall is measured as of has been for a number of years by monitors in Abington Street near to Marks and Spencer’s and in the Market Square.

I was told this morning from a very reliable source that the Conservatives are going to install another monitor at the Northgate Bus Station and possibly another in the Drapery.

Which means, if you get off the bus, walk through the Market Square, up Abington Street and then return you will be recorded six times which means they will not be recording like for like so we’ll have to ask for the records for Abington Street and the Market Square.

In other words don’t deal with the issue, change the data?

I’ll end this blog with the most amusing thing I heard on Wednesday which the argument was being put forward that Northampton with an 11.8% fall over the October to December Christmas period wasn’t as bad as some other towns that saw a 13.5% fall.

It amused me because it is an argument that is tantamount to telling a terminally ill patient that things could be worse because the person in the next bed who is also terminally ill has had one of their legs removed totally ignoring the fact that both are going to end up in a box.

The big question is what is the long-term plan and ambition for Northampton or do we now have to except that what the 1.1 million people who voted with their feet between April and December last year compared with two years ago are telling us is that Northampton Town Centre is in terminal decline?

It also amused me because the Northampton Conservatives obviously think the people of Northampton are unintelligent, half-baked idiots whose only purpose is to turn up and vote every four years and then go away until the next election.

An issue of little importance?

I don’t think so.