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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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 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
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
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
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.