Town Centre Regeneration – A Conservative Myth?

The absolute silence apart from the occasional when put under pressure “I’ll be really tough” statement from the Leader of the Council over the continuing decline in visitors and the resulting impact on the financial viability of Northampton Town Centre is disgraceful.

The latest Annual Council Outturn report demonstrates once again the abject failure of the Conservatives to get a grip of the problem.

Perhaps even more important is their continuing and almost mythical assertions in spite of evidence to the contrary that they have brought thousands of people back into the town.

Evidence and data that the Borough Council itself actually collects, collates and publishes.

Is there any wonder people in Northampton don’t believe a word that comes out of the Guildhall when the Leader and his friends are not simply put of touch with the seriousness of the situation but are in fact deliberately ignoring the facts and trying to spin their own version of the truth.

Or not the truth?

There is of course a serious problem which has again been demonstrated by a further fall in the number of visitors, and by visitors I include everyone who comes to shop, visit or work in the town centre, of 849,000 this year compared to last year and 1.56 million compared to 2011/2012.

What this in fact means is that compared with the last year of the previous administration the Conservatives under Cllr Mackintosh and his self proclaimed, “dynamic and supercharged” team has overseen a 2.62 million fall in visitors to Northampton.

Of course all town centres are have for a number of years been going through a decline brought about by a number of factors that are well known such as out of town retail centres and the massive increase in on-line shopping.

What the Northampton Conservatives have chosen to do to improve the performance data is quite a neat trick.

Well it would be if they had got away with it?

I quote the Conservatives comments on the latest Annual Outturn report in which instead of showing the performance as RED and failing is recorded as AMBER and within ‘Agreed Tolerances’.

“During the last 12 months, 13.8 million visitors were recorded in the Town Centre. This was slightly lower than expected however still within target”

On the face of it excellent news, except,

1. Last year there was 14.66 million visitors

2. The Conservatives lowered the target by 1.12 million

In effect had they retained the original target they would have missed it by 1.97 million this year.

What next?

Reduce all targets until the actual performance meets the target?

Or it may be that they will claim to have increased the footfall by an even more devious trick.

I recently asked for the footfall figures for the period January to March and was told it was 4 million.

So why the difference between the 2.77 million recorded on the Outturn and 4 million.

Simple, the Conservatives have installed additional monitors which means they are now not only double but in some case triple counting people increasing the footfall by over 1 million in a simple smoke and mirrors scam.

I will be sure to be comparing like for like.

I’m not sure if Cllr Mackintosh and the Northampton Conservatives simply think the public are no more than a bunch of simple minded, idiotic and moronic people who will believe anything they are told in spite of the evidence of their own experiences,

or that they simply don’t care what people think.

What is clear is that in the last three years over 2.6 million fewer people have chosen not to visit Northampton at a cost to the economy and in particular the economic recovery and survival of Town Centre businesses of between £65 and £130 million.

Reducing targets is not the answer.

With the recent announcement that will see the Rushden Lakes Development go ahead combined with the increased retail offered at Riverside and Sixfields it is perhaps time for a radical rethink about what exactly is the future of the Northampton Town Centre.

I have argued for some time that the regeneration of the Town Centre has to be formed around two specific and mutually supportive approaches.

The first is to bring more people to live in the Town through increased accommodation and a better use of existing buildings.

It is time to accept that Legal and General, who will be fully aware of the fall in visitor numbers and slow progress in bringing new organisations and jobs to the Enterprise Zone are not going to redevelop the Grosvenor Centre means that,

The second approach has to be to attract small independent businesses into the town centre along the lines of towns such as Ludlow, Market Harborough and Stamford to name only a few.

The problem is that the messages coming from the Guildhall are contradictory with the Leader of the Council as reported in the local media sometime ago claiming that the “Expansion of Grosvenor Centre is not in jeopardy” followed by “I’ll tell them to put up or leave”!!!!

Tough talk after having voluntarily handed the initiative to Legal and General by removing the option of refurbishing the old Greyfriars Bus Station.

Of course Legal and General have to protect the interest of their shareholders and the pensions that their success relies on and no-one would expect them to take unnecessary risks with investments of over £300 million.

Most worrying is the statement from the Councillor David Mackintosh the Leader of the Council that the Rushden Lakes development is not a threat but that

“other factors around will undoubtedly have an impact”,

Given that he doesn’t things the fall in the number of people visiting Northampton is important it would be interesting what the other more important “factors ” are.

Brian Binley MP for Northampton South may well be right that any further delay or withdrawal from the project by Legal and General may lead to them being, in his words, “a laughing-stock”.

Not something I think will overly concern them.

What is more damaging is that the Borough and County Council involvement in progressing the Grosvenor Development will be seen as not only “a laughing-stock” but incompetent and especially if it leads to a domino effect on the towns plans for regeneration.

Until Cllr Mackintosh and his chief supporter Cllr Hadland start to realise and accept that the future of Northampton depends on people and not on buildings the decline will continue.

Until they realise that a new bus station was never as they claimed it would be the answer which would attract thousands of people into town, (if anything it is putting people off), millions more will vote with their feet and simply walk away.

No amount of spin, and myths about Northampton Being Back on Track and Improving will convince people to return.

Regrettably, and I expect it will be shown again in the forthcoming Cabinet reports for full Council the Conservatives will wallow in self and mutual congratulations on how they have improved the Town Centre whilst continuing to abjectly fail to address the issues.