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Neston Businesses and Residents - Speak Up Now for High Street Recovery

Author: Carrie Spacey Published: 6th July 2020 08:11

Cheshire West and Chester Council has announced that a new High Street Commission is meeting during the summer to work on plans to support the recovery of the high streets across the Borough.

Neston's residents and businesses are amongst those being welcomed to put forward their views and suggestions for consideration.

Neston Town CentreNeston Town Centre. Photo by Bernard Rose

Recent investment projects in the borough include enhancements to town centres in Winsford and Ellesmere Port, along with Chester city centre.

Councillor Richard Beacham, Cabinet Member for Housing, Regeneration and Growth said: "The challenges faced by high streets across the country have been well documented. Covid-19 is an additional challenge and we must learn to adapt and to consider new investment in order to support our high streets to survive.

"I am sure there is a wealth of good ideas from business owners and residents for reviving high streets in our Borough. I know many people believe the reason for the decline is property rental rates and business rates, but the Council doesn't control these. There are however areas that we can influence and that is what this Commission is all about.

"I'd like to know more about travel issues to our high streets, what events and activities could be happening, or if there is a demand for more community space? We already have development projects underway but what are the other opportunities that local people think might help to breathe new life into some of our high streets? I look forward to hearing your ideas."

The Commission is meeting throughout the summer until September and welcomes all suggestions to develop collaborative and practical recommendations so that the Council and local partners can play their part in the economic recovery of town centres.

Areas of focus of the Commission will include analysis of the economic impact of Covid-19 and other factors facing the high street using expert witness reports from Business Improvement Districts, local traders and residents.

Please send your views to: highstreetcommission@cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk

The deadline for submissions is Sunday 19 July 2020.

More details on the Commission can be found on the council website here.

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At 10:50 on 6th July 2020, corinne commented:
Pave the high street. That way we can bring footfall back to the centre and maybe some stalls with coffee places to sit too.
Susan C
At 11:55 on 6th July 2020, Susan C commented:
Here we go again - some of us may recall similar initiatives in the past, all very commendable but the small town high street has had its day. People want WHSmiths, Primark, Marks&Spencer food, and a decent supermarket, possibly a Sainsbury of the same quality as eg Northwich. When does realisation dawn that the small shop has had its day?
So let's go for the 'community spaces' and outdoor coffee, but someone has to pay for the premises. We need some effort to get decent transport to proper shopping centres.
Susan C
At 12:11 on 6th July 2020, Susan C commented:
PS - I often said we need a niche market - lots of little antique shops or second hand book shops, so that people from a wide area would visit the town, but even that idea has probably had its day with Abe books and e-bay.
Dave Carter
At 16:24 on 6th July 2020, Dave Carter commented:
There was quite a well argued article by Rowan Moore in the Observer yesterday about the possibilities of, and the difficulties with, converting unused retail space into residential property. His argument was that it has to be done proactively, i.e. not just left to developers.
At 22:03 on 6th July 2020, Steph commented:
Can’t help thinking that this will be another talking shop where plenty of out of touch folks will debate how the high street can be reinvented into something that in reality will be commercially unsustainable.... the sad reality is that the high street in this country has had its day... Period.....
At 10:35 on 8th July 2020, christine commented:
Neston is a very pleasant town to shop in. Not everybody wishes to get in a car and travel miles. We are so fortunate we have free parking that in itself is a double bonus. I would like to see a health shop something similar to Holland & Barrett, as we have seen with the lockdown more and more people taking regular exercise. Perhaps a cook shop, more people are now baking with regular cookery demonstrations. It has to be a place that attracts sufficient attention, where people wish to linger. I agree that Sainsbury's needs a serious revamp.
Michael C
At 14:17 on 8th July 2020, Michael C commented:
Definitely a need to establish the likely max no of retail units the town is going to need and repurpose the rest. Some could go to residential (so incentivise conversion/ refurb but others may need to come down altogether, e.g Brook St (sorry Tracey and the new barbers!). The best direction for the whole area is tourism - more B&Bs, cottages etc. to draw in visitors who will spend in the town/ area. Also food - look to see if Neston could learn from, e.g. Ludlow.
Dave Carter
At 14:55 on 8th July 2020, Dave Carter commented:
I don't agree with the last, tourism really isn't where you want to go right now. A mixture of residential and light industrial (probably knowledge-based industries) would have a better future. Now there is some of the latter at Clayhill, is there room for more?
Susan C
At 11:19 on 9th July 2020, Susan C commented:
?Health shop (so called)- or a cook shop or book shop?? Just think how much custom these places would need for rent, rates, staff, profit - not a chance in hell of surviving in Neston, they are not doing well in Chester even. Shall we revisit the various local plans that cost a fortune to carry out - what was favoured for the town centre with the Neston Neighbourhood Plan of recent years? Wasn't that about planning for the future?
Dave Carter
At 18:46 on 9th July 2020, Dave Carter commented:
The problem is that people won't go to these outlets, because most of them don't need to, including me. Now with the pandemic we order everything online, and go in person to pick up meat, fish and vegetables, everything else is delivered, much from local suppliers. The relationship between the producer and the consumer has changed, there is far less need for an intermediary.
At 10:52 on 10th July 2020, Dy commented:
For some time I have thought that Neston needs a decent good old fish and chip shop like the excellent one at Little Neston. There is no substitute for a "chippie" where high class fish & chips are available. There are many people I have spoken to who share my views, and feel this ought to be given consideration.
Robin H
At 23:59 on 10th July 2020, Robin H commented:
Well, seeing as you ask, Susan, the Neighbourhood Plan does have something to say about the Town Centre. It recognises that the future lies in services and hospitality, that empty premises should be used for homes, no sentimentality there, and that the biggest impact would be made by the demolition and redevelopment of the south side of Brook Street. Replacing a poor quality and largely neglected range of buildings with a well-designed mixture of shops, offices, bars, restaurants and apartments, would transform the town centre. Trouble is the remote owners aren't interested and don't care. It's really down to CWaC to intervene using the powers they have to purchase and develop.
Robin H
At 00:14 on 11th July 2020, Robin H commented:
Oh, also, Dave Carter, regarding Clay Hill, that's exactly what the Neighbourhood Plan proposes and there is land there that could be developed if only someone sets about it. There was, last time I looked, potential funding from government though it may have changed given the times in which we live. The Town Council seems to have abdicated from responsibility for seeing its creation through so we're back to CWaC which faced with bigger problems elsewhere recognises but hasn't much time for Neston. If anything is going to change I am sure it will have to be a local initiative - we need something like a Neston Development Corporation to battle the system. Noone is going to do it for us.
Dave Carter
At 11:40 on 11th July 2020, Dave Carter commented:
It isn't clear to me now that we need more land developing. And there at least used to be a fairly strict separation between retail which was in the town centre, and light industrial which was at Clayhill. The problem with retail in the town centre is that none of the premises, even Sainsbury and ALDI really have enough space. And then there was opposition when ALDI wanted to expand into the area to the left of their store.

That was then, but now I don't see much more retail coming in, it won't be profitable. People's shopping habits have changed, and I think that change is permanent. Hospitality is on life support across the country, propped up with taxpayers money. So all that is left I think is to develop the town centre for housing, and improve transport links. As far as Clayhill is concerned, I used to think that a large B&Q or similar, and a large Matalan or similar would be useful. But now I think events have overtaken the need for such developments.
Robin H
At 10:35 on 19th July 2020, Robin H commented:
I'm not sure where the evidence is for some of the assertions and generalisations above. The Neighbourhood Plan, which is evidenced, and still current, points to the redevelopment of the dreadful, mostly empty, Brook St site as a key opportunity to provide homes, offices and spaces more suitable for the social and service economy. Apart from being an out-dated eyesore, doing nothing, which has been the reaction of councils and the landlords so far, sterilises a large part of the centre and stands as a symbol of its decline. As for Clayhill, it is the only employment site in the area and should not be squandered on retail development, it has land to spare for light commercial and industrial use. We are still going to need that sort of thing and it could provide jobs closer to home.
Dave Carter
At 17:14 on 19th July 2020, Dave Carter commented:
First, the largest employment site in the area is the ALDI distribution centre. Second, my point is that the division which pushes retail into the town centre, and light industrial to Clayhill, is artificial, and we need to look at the needs of retail and the needs of light industrial, rather than just stick to this division. Most of the retail premises in the town centre are simply too small. This is why Iceland moved out. Tesco is definitely too small, and in my view Sainsbury and ALDI are too. In the new world of physical distancing retail needs floor space. Light industrial not so much, as there is more control over who is on the premises. The world has changed Robin, and its not going back.
Robin H
At 22:18 on 19th July 2020, Robin H commented:
Forgive me I misunderstand but if you're arguing that more floorspace for supermarket chains is the answer for the town centre I don't think so. If you're suggesting the solution for the town centre is supermarkets at Clayhill, a mile out of town, or workshops in a town centre that doesn't, as you say, have suitable premises, that's simply nonsense. Retail and employment needs have already been studied. CWaC Local Plan and the Neighbourhood Plan research says there is no economic basis for more of what they call 'convenience' ie weekly food shopping, in the centre. That means it won't be viable. Nor is there any public call for it. Nor are the supermarket businesses, flush with online business, rushing in that direction. It made no sense in precovid times and it certainly makes no sense now. Ref Susan C's remarks above, the NP strategy for a town centre based on services and the social and visitor economy is viable, as we can see from successful businesses and there is scope for building on it. Demolishing and rebuilding the mostly-useless tatty Brook St site in a more appropriate form would enable the re-creation of the centre in tune with today's and future needs. Or have you got a better idea? One that's practical and achievable?
Dave Carter
At 12:15 on 20th July 2020, Dave Carter commented:
As far as the town centre is concerned I think it should mostly be given over to housing. But I am really not at all convinced that "the social and visitor economy is viable", you may have convinced yourselves of that when drawing up the neighbourhood plan, but that was in a pre-COVID world. We need a serious think about what the future needs of society are. We cannot have an economy so dependent on consumption, especially social consumption. Nobody seems capable of grasping that nettle, least of all the government.
Dave Carter
At 12:21 on 20th July 2020, Dave Carter commented:
ALDI have built two new stores in Chester, by the Blacon roundabout and at Bumpers Lane. Neither are anywhere near the town centre. Pre-COVID they always seemed pretty busy. Unlike the older supermarkets they don't yet sell much online (apart from some quite nice wine). They clearly thought that it would be economically viable to expand their existing site, so I am not sure on what basis you would disagree. A big, new ALDI on unused land at Clayhill I think could be quite successful.
Robin H
At 22:06 on 20th July 2020, Robin H commented:
So, as I understand it, your solution to this thread's topic, viz 'High Street Recovery', is to turn it 'mostly' over to housing. Well it's a point of view and I guess we might agree to some extent because the pre-Covid Neighbourhood Plan, I assume you've actually read it because it doesn't sound as though you have, is more prescient than you give it credit for. It proposes exactly that for empty properties, including the Brook Street site. I'm not sure what you would want to do about the occupied and functioning High Street businesses including the successful new ones already making money out of the social and visitor economy and other services that you say have no future. The NP view is they should be encouraged and I would add a need for post-Covid recovery assistance. Nor do you say how you would maintain choice for people needing shops and services close to where they live.

As for a big ALDI on Clayhill, it isn't in their current list of proposed developments so it won't happen any time soon, and CWaC is consulting on what to do with some funding that has come its way now. Whatever, it won't be used to build a supermarket; the private sector makes its own decisions and puts up its own money, but you're entitled to dream, I guess. I'm trying to address the here-and-now, based on evidenced research, not a speculative future. The Neighbourhood Plan takes the pre-Covid view that large out-of-town retail outlets will further damage the town centre and seeks to preserve designated employment land for better-qualified, better-paid jobs rather than fritter it away on poorly-paid shop work. What has changed about that? You lecture me on the post-Covid world, and we can all wonder what that may be like, but philosophical speculation isn't going to help CWaC decide what to do with its windfall. Both the Town Council, of which you were a member, and CWaC are legally responsible for the Neighbourhood Plan, and it does represent a considerable investment of time and money so, when Susan issued her challenge above saying, let's not go over old ground again, what do existing policies say, it seemed reasonable to do just that. No-one, including you, and certainly neither of the two councils that agreed the policies, has made any kind of a case for changing them so let's not waste any more time.
Dave Carter
At 09:12 on 21st July 2020, Dave Carter commented:
Of course a big ALDI on Clayhill isn't in their plans, it would be on land which isn't currently available to them. And you are right, the private sector makes its own decisions, however you deviate from that when you talk about post COVID recovery assistance for existing businesses in the town centre. Its the kind of muddled thinking which goes all the way through the neighbourhood plan, which is why I voted to reject it despite the considerable public resources devoted to urging people to vote for it.

Can you please make one thing clear to me, which wasn't clear in the plan, and isn't clear in your posts. What exactly is the justification for restricting the town centre to retail, and restricting Clayhill, where there is plenty of land available, to light industrial (better paid or not).
Michael C
At 10:58 on 6th August 2020, Michael C commented:
Two interesting articles in today's TImes. Only 34% of UK office workers have returned to their desks compared with 70% in Germany and 80% in Sweden. And estate agents report a surge in demand for houses with gardens in rural and semi-rural locations. The work from home generation are here to stay. With full fibre broadband due to come on line in Neston in 3-6 months time we should be marketing the town as a destination of choice for hi-tech business and people working from home. This in turn will increase consumer demand in the town rather than it being the dormitory town for commuters to Liverpool, Chester and Manchester.

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