Launched earlier this month, the new Town Centre Strategy aims to improve people’s experience of Scarborough through the provision of extra services and investment in the facilities already available.
Two consultation events to ask for the public’s views on what they would like to see improved in their town are being organised.
The first event, which will be a private event for local businesses and service providers, will be held on Wednesday 28 November, from 6pm to 8pm.
An open, public event will then take place on Tuesday 4 December, also between 6pm and 8pm.
To find out more about the council’s plans, which the authority hope will make Scarborough the best performing coastal town in the country by 2025, The Scarborough News has met up with the author of the strategy and the Cabinet portfolio holder for transformation.
Alex Richards, the authority’s head of economic development, and Councillor Heather Phillips were asked about what the council can do directly to support businesses on the high street, whether free parking and new retail stores could be an option to attract more people into town, and what people can expect from the consultation events. Here is what they said:
What can the council do to help the High Street?
Cllr Phillips: “We are constrained somewhat in the fact that we don’t actually own the properties in the high street so we’d like landlords to work with us and make the town centre a little bit tidier.”
Mr Richards: “As a local authority there are a number of things that we can do directly. We can assist with things like planning so we can try to encourage more people to live in our town centre. The amount of properties with residential capacity that is vacant is quite extensive at the moment so we’re looking at ways, through the planning system, to encourage people to come live in town and help us create that 24-hour environment.
Cllr Phillips: “I have been told that there are 800 properties that are unoccupied around this area and that’s 800 people that could have a home in the town centre.
“I’m concerned that we use those properties effectively to accommodate people where they actually want to live. Especially when it comes to student accommodation; students are the ideal tenants because they don’t want to look after a garden, they probably won’t have cars and would bring a lot of economic benefits.”
Mr Richards: “We can also help influence public transport infrastructure, smart town infrastructure and the technology that needs to be in place so that Scarborough can operate as a 21st century town.
“On top of that there’s the physical things like making the streets look nicer, keeping on top of maintenance issues.
“We do try to do that but everybody has got a role to play in terms of littering, chewing gums, cigarette ends, dog mess, so everyone needs to play their part.”
Are there any plans to help businesses who are struggling with high business rates and rents?
Mr Richards: “There’s not much we can do for rents and rates. Rates are set by central government. Small independent shops are the future of the retail sector and recently there’s been a scheme of business rates relief for small businesses so we welcome that.
“Something we’re doing ourselves is trying to establish a small pot of funding for small business start-ups, small businesses expansion in the retail sector.
“Up to now it’s been a sector that we couldn’t support but now we can.
“We also realise that some of the empty properties in town are very large, they attract significant business rates and significant amounts of rent so we need to work with the landlords of these properties.
“It’s not always easy because some are remote and have portfolios of properties all over the world and Scarborough is not necessarily a priority for them.
“But we want to talk to these people and try to encourage them to break down those properties into smaller, more lettable units, have flexible letting policies which allow pop-up shops to come along for a day or for a week and utilise the first and second floors above the shops for accommodation, office space and turn them into multi-use.
“Yes, there’s a big piece of work for us to do to try and continue to work with landlords but hopefully with this strategy and with a big groundswell of people behind it they will pay us more attention.”
Free parking: is it an option?
Cllr Phillips: “We have quite a lot of disc parking around the town centre and it doesn’t take many minutes to walk in so I’m not sure that will be a very good use of our parking spaces. Hopefully with the slightly reduced residents parking scheme we’ll be able to encourage people to come to the town centre.”
Mr Richards: “There’s no easy solution for parking but in towns where parking is free I wouldn’t say their town centres are performing better than ours.
“We’re still the second most visited town in England for overnight stays. People come to Scarborough despite the parking charges in their millions so we have to take that into context. Parking is not the reason why the town centre is not performing because we still perform a lot better than others.”
Are you looking to attract big companies such as Primark?
Mr Richards: “We have directly approached Primark and a number of other retailers. As an economic development team we approach these companies on a daily basis but at the end of the day it’s a commercial decision for them.
“We do what we can to encourage this type of companies to come here but we can’t twist their arm into doing it.
“They have a specific economic model that they measure investment against. A lot of these retailers at the moment simply aren’t opening new shops and those that are are still in the process of looking around for suitable locations. Scarborough may be on their list but there may be others that we are competing against.”
Should people have faith in the consultation process?
Cllr Phillips: “If you look at things that have been recently consulted on in Scarborough, we do listen.
“We like constructive comments, we don’t particularly need to hear the ‘Scarborough Borough Council is doing everything wrong’ type of comment. People need to tell us what we need to do right.
“There’s no point in using the consultation to have a go at us because we only want to do the best for Scarborough.”
Mr Richards: “As I said at the start we don’t own the properties, we don’t set business rates, we are not in control of what people sell in their shops so this consultation is a chance to bring together all the right people in one room to make a change and deliver an action plan.
“We want to bring together the landlords, the business operators, the community, the press and the media all pulling in the same direction.”
What happens after the consultation period?
Mr Richards: “When we finish the consultation we will assimilate all the information, take a report back to cabinet around January-February and hopefully we’ll come out with an action plan of all the things we need to do.
“Then we’ll establish a tasking finish delivery group to go out there and do it. The council will be on it, businesses, property owners, all the stakeholders will play their part to deliver it.”
Who will pay to deliver the strategy?
Mr Richards: “Everybody is going to have to contribute. Business owners, the council, we will all contribute. The government announced Â£650 million to help secure the future of the high street so as a local authority we will also try to tap into that.”