Most of us who have lived in Rayleigh for some considerable time have witnessed the changes to our High St. Toy Shops, Sports Shops, Tescos, video rental stores, they’ve all gone. Now I often hear residents say we’ve got too many estate agents, nail bars, cafes.
So what could the Council do about it?
This week I met with other Councillors and the District Councils Strategic Director and Regeneration Officer to discuss the future of Rayleigh High St. We sat and discussed the issues such as lack of youth facilities, congestion, parking (availability and costs), the future of the banks (which we rely on heavily for footfall), the problems with permitted development which means commercial premises can be turned into residential often without planning permission – the list was pretty long. One thing that struck me though was overall the District Council has very little control over the High St. It doesn’t ‘own it’, it can’t reduce rents to make it more attractive for fledgling businesses, it can’t do anything about business rates. Its hands are pretty much tied. Hell, it can’t even pedestrianize it without the say-so of Essex County Council (don’t get me started on the shambolic decision to try and move the taxi rank). Yes, it can reduce parking costs or remove them, it can grant alcohol licenses, but it doesn’t have much say over who occuplies a retail space.
So how do we overcome this ‘hurdle’? The Council could jump at the opportunity to stimulate business growth in our district by buying the freeholds up of premises in the town. That way it becomes ‘in control’ of its (high streets) destiny. Wouldn’t this be a much more worthwhile project than moving council offices? It would generate ongoing revenue for the Council through leases, it could map out its vision and get a balance of restaurants and retail. It could become the driving force behind High Street regeneration. This is exactly what Basildon are thinking of doing and in other areas of the country has already been done. Take a look here for a little bit of inspiration. Wouldn’t this add value to our Rayleigh?
Let me know what you think in the comments below