PGS: Town centre developments
The Society's task is to encourage thriving and viable town centres whether they be in the smaller Chiltern towns or in the larger conurbations.
Support should be given to the enhancement of shopping facilities and other appropriate uses to ensure that as far possible, vibrant and interesting town and village centres are maintained without any loss of their identity. The Society should positively question any proposals, which in their view could lead to the serious decline of any of the Chiltern town centres.
To quote a well-known retailer "a thriving town centre provides the hub for a healthy community, whereas dereliction on the High Street is the foundation for social decay and disorder".
Town centres should be the focus of a community. Traditionally they are places where people go to buy goods, do business, be entertained and meet other people. People need to be encouraged to use their town centre, so it should be convenient, attractive, safe and provide as wide a range of services and goods as befits the size of the town. Habits and fashions change, so town centres must be able to adapt to meet these challenges.
Economic viability and public interest are the two main factors, that determine the success of town centres. The former is a business judgement but the latter needs the definition and continued support of local councils, chambers of commerce and, not least the planning authority. The Chiltern Society needs to work with these local organisations and groups, and thus contribute to the creation and maintenance of vibrant and prosperous town centres.
First and foremost the need is to get people into the town centres and preferably to encourage them to stay as long as they wish. This calls for good and easy road access, either by public transport, with stops convenient to the shops, or private vehicles with near-by shopper's car parks and realistic parking charges. Once in the town centre it is the job of retailers and businesses to provide the customers with the goods and services they want, and the job of local councils to create an attractive and safe environment.
A balance of retail trades, other businesses and uses, including both local and multiple retailers is desirable, but this will be determined by market forces, though it should fit within a framework, developed by local organisation defined by the public sector. The Society's role is to press for planning decisions that achieve these objectives.
Retail is the key to a thriving town centre. The success or otherwise of its retailers depends on them attracting customers by satisfying their needs and demands. Shoppers will be drawn to locations which are easy and convenient to use and best suited to their needs. Proposals for a major retail outlet such as a supermarket, superstore or similar, should be encouraged to be sited in, or at the edge of the town centre as a real attraction for shoppers, rather than be developed in an out-of-town location. Too often the latter has happened with generally dire consequences for the town centre and particularly the local retailers. With a major trader in the town centre, local traders should be able to take advantage of the greater number of potential customers, and so provide them with a wider choice of shopping.
Although land is a scarce commodity in town centres, it cannot be either good planning or good sense to allow retail growth to take place out of a town, thus decimating the traditional centre. Such decisions should be actively discouraged. However large warehouse type operations such as DIY, furniture, electrical and other similar uses, eg garden centres, car showrooms, are better located at the edge of the town centre, but preferably in "edge of centre retail parks". Isolated "out of town" shopping centres should not be supported.
Fundamental as retailing is to the vibrancy of town centres, room must be retained for community activities such as libraries and community centres, as well as leisure outlets such as restaurants, cafes and pubs. Non-retailing businesses such as banks, building societies, estate agents, legal practices and similar also have a part in town centres, but they should not be allowed to proliferate or become dominant
These have become much more a feature of Chiltern towns and the revived interest in them is proving to be a popular incentive to attract shoppers into town centres. This trend should be supported provided there are no unsustainable negative impacts.
Within town centres, this should be encouraged, not only for senior citizens, but also where possible for low cost and affordable housing. However the location will need careful consideration to ensure these buildings do not compete with the needs of business and the community and do not aggravate parking and traffic congestion. Well defined walkways and public transport to the town centre should be included in any such development schemes.
The Society should attempt to prevent the character of the town centres in the Chilterns being destroyed by poorly designed developments using inappropriate materials (refer to the Chilterns Building Design Guide produced by the Chilterns Conservation Board). New development must harmonise with the existing, and this can be achieved without stifling innovative and quality design. Similar comments apply to street furniture. Seating and planting to enhance the ambience should be encouraged.
Traffic in town centres is an almost universal threat and measures to reduce it should be supported. Where suitable, pedestrianisation of town centres should be encouraged as a benefit for shoppers, provided alternative infrastructure is in place to cope with deliveries as well as both local and through traffic. Park and ride systems have proved successful in the large centres but often need severe parking restrictions to encourage their use. Shoppers must not be discouraged from using their town centres by excessive parking charges as they will go elsewhere more convenient.
The Society's involvement in planning to maintain and enhance thriving town centres, cannot be stated in rigid or prescriptive terms but its ultimate aim must be to stimulate and encourage a new vibrancy into those centres needing revitalising and to oppose any proposals that threaten town centres falling into decay and dereliction.
31st August 2006
Updated - Convenor's meeting 01.07.10