How long should a Council pontificate over what to do over their failing High Streets?

In the Rochford District, we’ve already seen Rochford become a town centre of doom and gloom with residents reporting high levels of anti-social behaviour, closed shops, pubs, and all the banks have gone.

Rayleigh is just about holding it together but struggling. Shop owners have reported plummeting profits with costs increasing. The struggle is real but hidden behind the smiles are the nervous business owners about what the future holds for Rayleigh.

If you, like me, watched the ‘Tonight: Is it the end of the road for High Streets?’ you’d see the parallels with our own High Street in Rayleigh. Car parking charges are just one of the ‘problems’ raised by business owners and if you start adding it up, you can see why – even when consumers are faced with delivery charges, it is still often cheaper and more convenient to shop online.

With congestion an almost guaranteed certainty, parking which is not exactly easy, any special events in the High Street are scarce (limited it seems to a summer event and winter, it would appear the council think people only shop then!), with a market that could be likened to a glorified car boot sale (residents words, not mine) and the threat of distraction thefts and the ASB, you can start to see why it’s not exactly enticing to make your way into the town centre.

There’s no point in bitching and moaning about it though and I’ve tried hard to remain positive and give some genuine propositions to try and boost our town centre and its survival.

Again, I’ve been in contact with the strategic director at Rochford District Council – the response I’ve had was less than inspiring when I asked about the progress of a BID – “I am of the view that we don’t have enough information to make a judgment yet as to whether a BID would be the right solution and businesses are not telling us that they think it is.” – there has been little engagement with businesses to even explain how a BID could help them and the High Street!!!

Personally, I am of the view that we need to remove the council from the equation and establish a BID to move the High Street forward. Councils are not experts in this field and they are not agile enough to adapt to the business sector. They tie themselves up in all sorts of reasons for not doing something.

Remember my idea of an ice skating rink during the Christmas period to extend the visit time of people in our town. An idea that was discarded in the blink of an eye. Why though? Just a raft of excuses without any substance.

A town team that was previously established was abandoned by the Town Council – why?

It seems like there is little appetite by local politicians to help with the problems faced and the Council should turn this over, as Southend has done to a BID scheme.

Now is the time to act on this because before long it will be too late and Rayleigh will be another Rochford and any amount of wishful thinking won’t revive it.

More media focus on the High Street tonight on ITV.

Further reading on the ITV Tonight programme report can be found here

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About the author 

James Newport

Essex County Councillor for Rayleigh North, Rochford District Councillor for Downhall & Rawreth and Rayleigh Town Councillor for Sweyne.

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