Exciting vision of more shops and restaurants in Stortford town centre
Do we have enough shops, bars and restaurants in Bishop's Stortford or could we do with more?
This week I’m taking a look at another section of the Town Centre Planning Framework (TCPF), dealing with what our town currently has to offer in terms of retail, what we need to offer if we are to compete with comparable nearby towns and how we might go about bridging the gap.
You may be surprised and delighted to hear that despite people’s online shopping habits and other current retail trends, we need lots more shops, bars and restaurants.
The East Herts Retail and Town Centres Study (November 2013), which has since been updated to take account of population and expenditure forecasts, shows that “Bishop’s Stortford’s catchment area potential is expected to grow significantly and will be comparable with the [study] benchmark centres in terms of population, levels of affluence and available expenditure”. In other words, we have a ready market but currently no strategy to exploit it.
To do so means another 10,000 sq m (107,000 sq ft) of floorspace by 2026, of which up to 20% could be food and beverage space.
Currently, vacant units could meet no more than a third of this requirement, so we need to consider providing more – a lot more – retail and restaurant units in the town.
The TCPF proposes a strategy for town centre redevelopment that will meet this demand.
Stortford’s challenge will be to secure the necessary investment so that we can capitalise on predicted future growth whilst supporting the independent and specialist retailers that make the town unique.
The view of the TCPF is that there will be continued scope for Stortford to diversify in areas such as the evening economy, leisure and entertainment, but that 'comparison goods' – defined as “products that consumers purchase relatively infrequently and so they usually evaluate prices, features and quality levels before making a purchase, such as cars, TVs and major appliances” – will be the driver for growth.
In this area, according to the TCPF, we are weak. It defines our current retail offer as “predominantly mid-market and failing to match comparable nearby towns in terms of choice and quality”.
In addition, there are certain key 'comparison goods' retailers and restaurant chains (high street names) missing from Stortford that we need to attract. To do so, we must ensure that we provide modern units of the right size that will attract the key missing operators. It may be possible, says the TCPF, to reconfigure existing premises to create larger units to achieve this.
The TCPF identifies key locations for new retail development as follows:
- Large new shops as part of the Old River Lane (ORL) development, connecting into the network of lanes to North Street. ORL will provide opportunities that need to be balanced by improvements to the rest of the town centre to ensure that the high street continues to be supported. (Investment to achieve balance should include the larger shops and national multiples in Jackson Square and on Potter Street, but, vitally, the independents in South Street and the lanes and alleyways off of it. The TCPF sees these clusters of independents as helping to make Stortford unique whilst providing an alternative and interesting town centre environment.)
- A new development of smaller shops between South Street and Adderley Road and the riverside, and across the river to the mill site and Dane Street, via a new pedestrian bridge, opening up South Street to the riverside while enhancing the quality of the public realm.
- New restaurants at the cinema and retail at the new station square (currently under development). Redevelopment of Anchor Street leisure centre and the mill site will help to attract people to the southern end of town, increasing footfall along South Street. Timed pedestrianisation of South Street will improve the quality of the shopping environment, reduce pollution and increase space for the market.
- A cluster of new and existing restaurants along the riverside at The Maltings on Southmill Road.
- A programme of shop-front improvements to enhance and strengthen the historic fabric along South Street and Potter Street, to bring listed and conserved buildings out of the shadow of oversized fascia boards and unco-ordinated colours on existing shop fronts.
A quick look at the schematic maps in the TCPF document shows how this strategy will provide at least a doubling of retail and restaurant frontage, a significant proportion of which will be opening up areas which, at present, we consider to be non-retail.
Much of this new frontage is clustered around the riverside or beyond the east bank, effectively moving the river toward the centre of activity and giving it back its rightful place as the major focal point of our town.
These exciting proposals in the TCPF suggest to us that we can turn our town around in terms of its retail and restaurant/leisure focus and offer a significant reason to visit, not only for the pleasure of exploring the town on foot but also for the rewards in terms of retail choice, restaurants and bars that await us when we do.
We need to keep this vision in mind and make sure that when related proposals come forward, we are ready to support them with as much gusto as it needs to ensure delivery.