The Council’s Employment, Business & Investment Scrutiny Committee met tonight to discuss a plan to address negative perceptions of the town centre.
A group comprising of both Council Members and Officers was assembled to assess a survey of town centre businesses and analyse the retail landscape in the UK before arriving at a set of recommendations to take the town centre forward – the full document presented can be found on the Council website by clicking here (PDF).
Each item from the report was read out point by point to all the members, with further detail given where appropriate.
Cllr Skelland offered thanks to everyone involved in putting the review together, saying although the issue had been looked at before this was a ‘new start’ for the town centre. He went on to say the plan ‘is just the start’ of an ongoing process.
Mrs Dana Davies pointed out that “Perhaps this is an opportunity as well to engage with business owners as often negative perceptions are from them as well as visitors”. Later she suggested business engagement does happen but it’s behind the scenes and not as evident as it could be, she suggested more commitment from officers to engage business.
David Taylor agreed, saying “This is a framework we can work with, we need to change the negativity that is rife around here, we need to be a town that is glass half full.”
The input of the Town Centre Forum was mentioned (you can read this months TCF report here) and with the Forum Chairman in the public ‘gallery’, he was invited to address the meeting.
Mr Critchley, who manages the Eagles Meadow shopping centre opened his remarks by saying “It is good the council are looking at this and doing something about it”
He was very blunt, referring to some ‘sh**houses’ he has lived in the past, for example Brixton and Wandsworth, highlighting how Wrexham is infact really good and he ‘doesn’t understand the negativity around here’.
Mr Critchley gave feedback from the Town Centre Forum , a direct link in to the process that was previously criticised as lacking, saying they were ‘not sure about posters in windows nor about a promotional film’ , and pointed out the night time economy had been missed out. The latter was highlighted and a mini discussion took place highlighting the council’s work towards gaining the ‘Purple Flag’ award for a safe night out, plus revealing that the council will not introduce a proposed £1000 ‘late night levy’ on licensed premises.
His summing up referred to the set marketing budget, saying “£20,000 is not a lot of money when trying to change people’s perceptions”, jokingly saying £200,000 would be better!
Cllr Neil Rogers added that ‘Wrexham is a safe night out now’ highlighting as his family goes out he has real experience of the concerns faced by members of the public.
Derek Wright explained that the working group chose retail to focus on given their needs analysis rather than the night time economy, but recognised ‘it’s a two way street and everyone needs to work together in collaboration’.
It was observed that ‘higher end, more expensive shops should be able to survive and the stats suggest they might be ok’, although the perception is that such shops would not perform well in Wrexham. Due to this the meeting was told ‘facts should be marketed and used to attract a greater range of shops’.
Cllr Alun Jenkins was concerned about the outcome of the meeting, and it was explained the idea is the report and plans are put into action with the committee getting progress updates every six months. Mr Jenkins said he wanted to ‘see something happen’ and challenged Steve Bayley, Head of Assets and Economic Development, to turn the report to actions.
The Council gave feedback to the Committee highlighting the Town Centre Forum had requested a calendar of events for the town. This is being looked into and hopefully a quarterly programme will be produced, paid for via sponsorship.
The meeting edged towards a conclusion with thoughts from Steve Bayley, who adopted a cautious stance on the ability to pin down a figure on how much it would cost to overturn perceptions:-
“We have to be clear on our priorities, use the money wisely and then build on that. We need a strong and loud voice from the Council to build on this”.
He also emphasized the need to look at long term factors including maintaining the ‘shop window’ listing pedestrianized areas and other examples as areas requiring attention and financial resources.
Cllr Jenkins questioned if the report should go to the Executive Board, however it was concluded that the answer was no, as there are no decisions to be taken. It was noted that the report will gain raised awareness internally at the council so all members are aware of its contents and aims.
The Chairman summed up the meeting at the end saying the report “…did not contain aspirations, its going to happen!”.
The BBC have written an article prior to tonights meeting, viewable by clicking here, which contains a video report containing an interview with the Council’s town centre manager, members of the public giving their views, and a couple of seconds from our very own Wrexham.commer Rob in a dodgy jumper!