I regularly get asked about Accrington Town Centre. People quite rightly feel it has gone downhill. They have a point but it’s a problem long in the making.
Where did it all go wrong? It certainly didn't happen this morning or last week. The Council cannot be blamed entirely for lack of profits at Marks and Spencers, B and M bargains and the Yorkshire Bank, retailers that were there until recently.
We as consumers have changed the face of retail. Our shopping habits have changed over the last three decades. The internet, out of town shopping centres and supermarkets have all attracted our money.
Past councils do however bare some responsibility. Allowing too many shops including building the Arndale (& losing a great car park) in the 80’s, getting rid of the sunken gardens and doing nothing about Warner and Abbey streets. Past councils and council leaders failed to see a changing world.
In more recent times I have sat and suffered in many a meeting.
Upto 2011 we had 12 years of a Tory Council. Tortuous. A council that bet everything on black and it came up red. A council that bet on increased retail when out of town stores where booming, the internet going stratospheric and supermarkets expanding from fruit and veg to everything and anything anywhere in a van. 12 years we can’t reverse.
Instead of reducing retail premises and focusing on the beautiful architecture they spent £1m on pedestrian makeover of Broadway, demolished the old cinema, demolished the brilliant concrete market and built more new shops in their place. Allowed the streets around the town centre to decline rapidly despite £60m of government funding. A mistaken relocation of the bus station. £600,000 spent on a failed website that shut down after just 4 months and £300,000 spent on a loo very few people used. No effort to increase residential accommodation which had led to success in every other successful town centre.
Post 2010 and deep cuts the new council can’t do much. It owns little. Reliant on grants or private sector. It has the right plan. To attract more leisure, convert to office space and develop far more residential in the town centre. Where it can, it focuses on the unattractive and refurbishing our wonderful old buildings. One simple measure has been to put the Accrington Pals fascia over the ugly mistaken 1960's building that sprawls Broadway. The grounds of St James have been made far more attractive and a Heritage Lottery grant of £3m secured to refurbish Blackburn Road is out to consultation.
Its not the present that’s the problem, it’s the past.