The perfect storm
Our Town Centres have been neglected and starved of investment. A combination of changing shopping habits, rising business rates and a general lack of investment have created a situation where retail is in decline in the Borough with shop vacancies and reduced footfall. The Conservatives have taken their eye off the ball locally on this and are spending what limited income they have on delivering the Civic Centre project. They have forgotten about the importance of maintaining vibrant town centres that people want to visit and spend their money in. There has been a lack of focus and leadership to identify innovative solutions to make our town centres more attractive in the short term and too much focus on a false vision for the Borough in the long term.
There has been a lack of innovation and focus on what matters and too much shifting of responsibility towards failing retail landlords. Distracted by Brexit, at a national level Conservative government policies are damaging our High Streets.
Supporting businesses and promoting tourism
The role and contribution that local independent businesses make to the Borough is often overlooked and not promoted sufficiently by the Council. We need to do more to value the vibrant and diverse range of small businesses in the Borough and to support them to ensure they can continue to prosper. We welcome the decision for a new Business Improvement District in Tunbridge Wells and the potential benefits this will bring for the prosperity of businesses in the Borough.
The Council has played little or no role in supporting local events financially and in recent years has eliminated its events budget. This is short sighted and counterproductive. The Council has an important role to play in boosting tourism and prosperity, working with businesses and communities to bring people into the Borough and see what it has to offer.
Investment in Southborough and Paddock Wood
The Southborough Hub scheme has been very poorly managed and the uncertainty has had a knock on effect of undermining the local retail offer. The Conservatives demolished the much-loved Royal Victoria Hall in favour of a new ‘state of the art theatre’. This promise has now been reneged on in favour of a cheaper village hall. The proposals have been pushed through without adequate consultation demonstrating that the Conservatives are not interested in what local people think.
Paddock Wood has a lack of local infrastructure and we are supportive of the plans to provide a Community Centre for Paddock Wood. This provides much needed substantial investment which will see additional services provided for the local community.
What we propose
There are few simple solutions to undo the poor management of Tunbridge Wells’ town centres and trends to online shopping producing reduced retail footfall cannot be reversed. There are however a number of way which we believe could make town centres more attractive to residents/visitors:
a) Consider targeted reduction of business rates where possible, rethinking transport and car parking in the town centre through introduction of a park and ride and incentives to shop (a free period or redeemable vouchers).
b) Encourage events in Borough town and village centres to boost retail footfall such as food markets, beer festivals, and craft fairs.
c) Encourage the development of local market spaces – areas where local produce can be sold on permanent sites. Provide a focus on meeting the needs of all residents of the Borough
d) Learn from the success of other areas where forward thinking councils have helped establish community events for a fraction of the cost being spent on consultants for the Civic Centre project
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