We need a new town centre scheme

 January 2011  A NANTWICH CIVIC SOCIETY PAGE

 

 

HERE’S an open letter from Nantwich Civic Society about a survey they conducted in Nantwich Town Centre

 

Pictured: the Civic Society Chairman, Jeff Stubbs

WE were genuinely surprised to see the results of our survey. They show a worrying situation for everyone in our town.

   The condition of the town centre has crept into one of neglect, patching up, make do and mend or "just leave it until someone complains".

   We understand the financial pressures on businesses and public authorities and would not expect a sudden magic wand of improvements and investment to occur overnight. 

   Yet, unless our town's public spaces and private

 

buildings are maintained better - and quickly - to a high standard, one day, the visitors, shoppers and business investors will walk away and leave Nantwich to slide away into disrepair. Once the tipping point has been reached, we'll all realise we're over the hill.

   So, what does the Civic Society expect from this "wake up" survey? We would like the councils, businesses, shopkeepers, voluntary groups and residents to decide to get stuck in and put maintenance high on their agenda. We consider that, 30 years after being pedestrianised and subjected to

 

constant goods vehicle damage, the town centre needs a total replacement. High quality surfacing is needed, commensurate with the historic, architectural status of the town. A town centre regeneration project is required over a period of years.

   In the meantime, can we all agree to get painting, clearing weeds, removing unnecessary boards, signs, posts and stickers? Road and path surfaces need repairing properly, not patching up. Goods vehicles loading or parking on pavements should be made to pay for the damage they cause.

 

JEFF later added:

I have had a meeting with Cheshire East's Regeneration Officer, David McGifford, who has clearly decided to look closely at what help and direct action he can coordinate for the town.

   We are in active discussions. One hope is for the Civic Society to lead volunteers on a Spring Clean Up of the town centre - doing some painting of lampposts, seats and bollards, as well as cleaning the grit and mud off many

 

pieces of street furniture.

    We are open to suggestions of things and locations to which we could give a good "Wash

and Brush Up".

   I am speaking to the Town Council on February 3rd (2011) and also have been pleased to see the report on the agenda of the Nantwich LAP (Cheshire East's local delivery forum).

 

 

THE full survey runs to 11 A4 pages and is profusely illustrated with examples of features in the town centre that concern the society, such as the one on the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture: A section of the main path from The Square to St Mary's Parish Church. ''A patchwork of ill-matched, poor quality materials, broken and cracked'', says the Civic Society. ''What a sad reflection on the state of our town centre's streets.''

Picture: Nantwich Civic Society

 

Introduction

Most people agree that Nantwich is a lovely place to live, shop, visit and work in.

   In the past few years, people kept remarking that some parts of our streets and buildings seemed to be getting worn out and "tatty". Eventually, we decided to survey the whole town centre; to see if our impressions were borne out by reality; to look harder at the overall detail of the public realm in town.

   We carried out this, the latest Street Audit, between Autumn 2009 and Spring 2010. The last survey of the buildings and spaces of Nantwich was carried out for the Millennium, the photographs being kept in Nantwich Museum's archives.

   We were surprised by our results. We hope this study grabs the attention of the public, local authorities, businesses and volunteers - to galvanise a drive for improvements. They vary from substantial, in the case of the worn-out pedestrianised surfaces, or small details like painting or clearing weeds from shop doorsteps. The details, big and small, all add up.

 

Street signs and posts

We observed too many cases of unsightly, often pavement-blocking, municipal poles, signs and lampposts. Sometimes redundant and rusting away; other times they have proliferated on an ad hoc basis without any overall heritage awareness There are many more unnecessary and/or rusting posts and uncleaned signs all over the town and its main roads.

 

Sandwich or "A Boards"

in the pedestrianised areas or on pavements cause hazards for shoppers. Once allowed to start, they always proliferate and give the town a cheap image. Businesses need to attract custom but this rash of pavement blockages is self-defeating in the end. We counted 36 - and it's still rising! Highway law can prevent them.

 

Poorly cleaned surfaces,

especially outside or in the vicinity of hot food shops. Regular pavement cleaning is required - preferably paid for by these food shops or by the Council.

   The Town Council have complained in the past about the mess left outside fast food shops, yet no action is taken by the businesses or the highway authority. We are expected, it seems, to just put up with the gradual decline of our town.

 

Bad repairs in tarmac or concrete to historic cobbled and setts.

 Patched up road surfaces; a poor patchwork of scrappy surfaces gives a poor impression of the town and the council - and they can soon become dangerous.

 

An overall, strategically-planned improvement programme is needed for the whole town centre.

 

Puddles and holes

Sunken pavements and pedestrianised surfaces, which gather puddles and are dangerous for older or less mobile people. They deter visitors, downgrading the shopping experience.

   The uneven surfaces are a health and safety hazard as well as a source of civic shame.

We think that Nantwich has high levels of Civic Pride - in some matters it certainly does, but not when we look closely at the environment in town.

 

What have we found?

 Our survey - a simple snapshot over early 2010 - shows a wonderful historic town centre but with a worryingly poor standard of maintenance of the assets making Nantwich Town Centre such a unique place. Unless repairs and replacement are done soon, the costs will be prohibitive. Urgent action is needed by private and public owners.

 

Litter

 We did not specifically look at this issue. It was not prominent as a problem during our surveys and credit is due to the Town Council for its efforts in the town centre. This topic requires a separate study and we support the efforts of the council in this respect.

   We saw many examples of bad road surfaces and broken or sunken pavements. Patch repairs, whilst cheap initially, don't work in the long term. New surfacing is sorely needed throughout the town centre.

 

How will the survey be used?

  • The survey is to prompt interest in the quality of the public realm of Nantwich town centre,

  • The issues - general and particular - that the survey has identified, can be used as a tool for further investment by, and as a tool for funding bids and investment decisions by, the local authority.

  • We hope that the private owners of buildings and businesses will also appreciate what needs to be done to their own properties.

  • It might follow also that this work inspires voluntary action from local groups to improve the environment.

   We have given copies of our survey to Cheshire East Council, Nantwich Town Council, Nantwich Museum, voluntary bodies and local business groups.

   It is acknowledged that Cheshire East Council, our new council, is under severe financial pressure - as are many businesses and individuals. Years of making do; cheapskate mending of paths with tarmac or concrete in brick-paved surfaces has created a messy patchwork, unfitting to the historic character.

   However, the Civic Society's view is that lots of money can be saved in the medium as well as the long term, by proper and timely maintenance.

   Conservation has been the main thrust of our society since its inception in the 1970s. We believe that conservation is not only about preventing the loss, redevelopment or alteration of historic buildings but is founded on keeping the urban fabric in good condition all the time.

  

 

Seating

 Essential for the enjoyment of the town centre, public seating can contribute to social discourse . . . if it's a nice clean seat. The picture (by the Civic Society) shows a ''neglected and unused'' seat in Hospital Street and adds: ''Let's move this and the one adjacent to it to the Riverside and get them cleaned and re-varnished.''

 

Nantwich is recognised nationally, as well as regional, as a well-loved, well-used and commercially thriving market town. The context is one of some really good quality buildings, public and private, as well as interesting spaces - all of which give Nantwich its unique character.

   Whilst not easy to maintain, these old buildings and spaces must be "kept up to scratch" and improved wherever possible. Complacency about maintenance is a dangerous and ultimately costly trap.

   Like most big issues - the devil is in the detail. However, as providers and guardians of all the public realm of Nantwich, the council must take responsibility for better standards of surfacing and signage, etc.

 

Boxes and bins

Dirty, unpainted, and/or rusty statutory undertakers' equipment boxes; sticky-tape-laden or peeling lampposts. Why are they needed? How do the utilities get away with such neglect?

   Gutters on roofs with grass or even trees growing out of them - the short term consequences to the fabric of these buildings are really serious - and costly to repair once water has penetrated into the walls and internal fabric.

 

Vegetation thrives in town

Trees are not always good for the environment -especially in roof gutters. Serious damage can be caused by water penetration from blocked pipes.

 

Railings and barriers

Basically installed for the safety of pedestrians, they are all too often left bent or leaning over. They are likely to be basic and utilitarian rather than of a "heritage" design, more fitting to the Conservation Area.

   Pillory Street / Waterlode. Nantwich in Bloom's efforts on railings are let down by pavement neglect.

 

All historic town centres in Cheshire have a much better quality of care and use of heritage designs for street furniture. True?  We ask: Is there any maintenance regime for painting? Or for a general tidy up? Can we help?

Nantwich deserves better. What solutions can be devised? Can a big debate be started? Can we, Nantwich Civic Society, help?

Summary

Nantwich centre is perceived by many as a lovely, historic centre, with busy shops and offices. A closer look at its condition shows how dangerously poor many of its components really are.

   Many private owners of properties have kept up to the responsibility of ownership - and thanks must be given to them. But laurels have been rested on for far too long by public authorities and some private owners.

   This survey is a wake-up call because Nantwich

 

Town Centre Conservation Area is getting scruffy. The next step is one of economic and environmental decline. Cheshire East Council has already completed many reviews of conservation areas - so let's hope a review of Nantwich is imminent.

   Local authorities are largely at the mercy of central government grant regimes - based on headline-grabbing capital projects.

   Maintenance does not get a look-in with public expenditure. This needs reversing. It is the key to a good environment and local pride.

   Why pay good money for redevelopment schemes in

 

the town centre but not maintain the rest of the town's historic core? National and local government puts sustainability at the heart of its actions. True sustainability lies in looking after what we already have and avoiding paying for capital and resource intensive new buildings.

  Having said that, the town centre pedestrianisation is over 30 years old - and looks older. With the unforeseen increases in goods vehicle weights and higher lorry usage, the whole has been damaged and repaired - many times over.

Nantwich needs a new town centre regeneration scheme based on conservation principles

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