We've been cooped up too long haven't we ?, after a week at work one thing I used to enjoy and I know to some it may sound a bit dull was a walk into town and a mooch around the market,
Ok I'd usually stop at the little kiosk for a tea and a bacon butty, and a chat more often than not.
Getting a haircut was sometimes my first stop, I'd get to the barbers early as I'm one of those impatient people who hates to wait around, into the chair and come out a changed man.
Sometimes on the market I'd get chatting to some of the characters who would be there like me just taking in the scenery while they supped their chosen beverage, I've had some great chats to any number of interesting people over the years.
Those my friends were the days, the ability to just mooch around, maybe drop in at the pub and have a quick pint, take a look at some of my favourite buildings, one of these being what was many years ago The Corn Exchange, which then became a cinema, and long after that a nightclub.
Situated on the periphery of the market square it has sat empty for some time, before Covid 19 I think there were plans to redevelop it, maybe when things improve it may still happen but for now all it houses are the memories of the people who entered the building over the years.
We've had a market in the town centre for over 800 years, it's witnessed historic events, it's seen boom and bust, back in the sixties it would be thronged with ladies shopping, sometimes with their children with them, they would chat to friends, buy vegetables, meat, linen, and go home tired but happy.
The market traders would shout out trying to attract custom to their stalls, my own favourite memory is of being on the market when I was very young and for some reason a Hog roast was going on, the smells and sounds stayed with me all these years.
This central area of Northampton saw lots of change towards the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, talk to anyone who was around in those days and they will tell you what a crime it was that The Emporium Arcade was demolished, and that the town was never the same after that.
Concrete monoliths were erected, old rows of terraced houses pulled down, old pubs, churches, very little was spared the attentions of the wrecking cranes and bulldozers, character was sacrificed to the god of concrete.
The building which would later be voted as one of the most ugly buildings in the country was slowly erected, huge concrete beams were hoisted into position and many thousands of bricks were laid, concrete poured.
This was Greyfriars Bus Station a construction that never failed to elicit strong opinions and debate amongst not only Northamptonians but people all over the UK. it also served as the coach station for the town.
This redevelopment was not of course unique to my town, it was happening all over the country, the ugly results of which can still be seen to this day, and don't get me wrong some of the old terraced house did need to go.
However not enough thought was put into the bigger picture and the end results of all this out with the old in with the new mentality was a mixture of some good and a lot of the very bad.
Now I'm getting to my point, I don't look at Facebook very often these days but when I do there is an ongoing debate about the plans to redevelop the market in Northampton, I'll give my thoughts on this.
Obviously the pandemic and lockdown has taken its toll on footfall but even before this the market has been dying a slow death, a victim of changed shopping habits and a general (in my opinion) decline in standards in the town.
Below is the Emporium Arcade which was the subject of a report by the famous architectural historian Ian Nairn.
The picture below was taken pre-covid, and you can just see the concrete multi-storey car park, a lot of the space on the marketis no longer occupied with stalls.
An extract from Northamton Borough Councils Town Centre Masterplan (Heritage)
In the local rag the idea's put forward make interesting reading, but they have to be taken in the context of what we already know, and I will expand on that shortly.
Do I agree with the above in terms of heritage,? broadly yes but read on because there are fundamental flaws in the heritage statement. Let me lay out my thoughts and we can dissect their stated aims.
The land My personal thoughts on the Market Square and the town centre in general.
There is no doubt that as it is the town centre and its hub the Market Square is not what it was, it's no longer a welcoming place to be and the reasons for that are many and not unique to our town.
Why do I say it's not a welcoming place to be, for me the main factors are these -
The whole town centre looks tired, many of the shops which were once the main attractions to shoppers have gone, the latest was Marks and Spencer which was in the town for many years.
British Home Stores went long before M&S, and many other shops have over the years disappeared to be replaced by charity shops while some have stood empty.
A major factor for me is the amount of anti social behaviour that goes unchecked, this is down to the lack of any visible Police presence in the town, that and the people living on the street don't make for a pleasant environment.
The question of homelessness is another discussion altogether so I'm not going to get into that suffice to say this is not a blame game on my part merely my own observations.
When Greyfriars Bus Station was demolished there was talk of the land that it stood on be re-developed, now that land has stood empty for years and frankly looks like second world war bomb site.
For a town where the powers that be had the not so brilliant idea of building the new Bus Station closer to where the pollution that comes from the buses is most likely to affect people there would be a good way to counter balance that particular faux pas.
The land that now stands empty should be made into a Park, trees, grass, benches, small cafes where people could buy a coffee and sit amidst the greenery, what better way to get rid of an eyesore and help reduce pollution?.
Now to address the Market Square specifically and historic buildings on the periphery of the Square.
What does the above statement mean in real terms, and what questions does it raise?.
The general upkeep of historic buildings, that is a fine aspiration but my questions would be this .
Who owns these buildings, are they privately owned if so who would provide the finance for their enhancement?.
If some of them are Council owned who again would finance their enhancements given the state of the Councils finances.
What specifically does upkeep and enhancement mean?,
And again who would be responsible for that ?
I don't want this to seem completely negative because the town does have some beautiful buildings, The Town Hall being probably the best example.
We all know that the statement above regarding the high street being the heart of our local communities is largely true and this begs the question?.
What can our town centre offer now that the tendency for people to shop online has grown exponentially and the small businesses located in the town centre will see less and less footfall?.
I asked around about what other Northamptonians think, here are two responses.
"They need to make it appealing for people to stay there, and also to work for people passing through. At the moment, it's just a cut-through. I do think looking at the Square in isolation though means they won't solve the wider issue ".
"I think the Council has to magically make the Market Square the focal point of the town centre, and a destination, which isn't easy because they've been struggling to do that for as long as I can remember. I like the idea of providing trees and areas for cafes and bars".
And here we have the crux of the issue, if the town is no longer a primary destination for shopping then what is it, what can it offer?.
The first problem is getting people to visit in the first place, because at the moment it offers very little, how to change this I'll be honest I don't know.
Secondly I agree with the response above about making it appealing for people to stay there, and that ties into the second response about providing tree's and area's for cafes and bars.
Again I come back to this, the town needs to be properly policed, and by this I don't mean reactive policing but more proactive policing.
I know this is not the remit of the Council but they admit themselves that this is an major factor in making a place feel safe for people.
The level of anti social behaviour is not acceptable, there have been to many incidents of violence especially in the Drapery, and until the town centre is perceived as safe this will deter a lot of people from wanting to visit it.
The amount of fly tipping on the periphery of the town in increasing and the council make no effort to trace and punish the offenders, so even travelling into town can be a depressing event.
I am aware of the fact that councils funding from Central Government has been cut year after year and so I do have a level of sympathy on that front, but the councils contribute to their financial woes time and again.
When a Council lends £10 million pounds to a football club and that money is lost you have to ask some very serious questions, and when the County Council builds a brand new Headquarters at a cost of £53 million and then declares its bankrupt?.
I'm afraid that our some of our local representatives are not up to the job, and that has been the case for some considerable time.
Before Covid 19 struck I was walking near All Saints Church where the Taxi rank is located, many of the taxis had their engines idling and the smell of diesel was strong and unpleasant.
I contacted the Council (who had declared a climate emergency) and asked why this was allowed to happen and pointed out it was not good for pedestrians.
Their response was - (I will leave the spelling mistakes in)
"Dear Mr Nicholls,
I am e-mailing you regarding your enquiry about hackney cabs ideling their engines on the Wood Hill rank on the afternoon of 26th June 2019.
Whilst I agree that it serves no purpose and is unsessesy for hackney cab operators to idle their vehicles engines during the warm periods of weather, there are currently no Road Traffic Orders in place to prevent any vehicle to idle whilst parked stationary in the town centre. Such orders are put in place by and enforced by the Highways Authority which is currently a County Council function.
There is legislation that makes it an offence to leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily whilst parked under the Road Vehicle Regulations (1986). A £20 fixed penalty notice can be served under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002. To the best of my knowledge, Northampton Borough Council have not adopted a policy to enforce this legislation thus enforcement officers are not authorized to enforce the legislation. Consideration has been given in the past to such actions but in order for a fine to be issued the driver of a vehicle has too refused to turn their engine off after being asked to do so by a council official.
In an effort to improve air quality within the borough, Northampton BC have adopted a Taxi emissions policy which will require older vehicles to be replace with more newer environmental friendly types over a phased period. Eventually, new registered vehicles will be required to be Ultra Low Emission Vehicle types (e.g. fully electric). A link to the document is available online at https://www.northampton.gov.uk/downloads/download/3513/taxi-and-private-hire-vehicle-specifications-and-emission-policy
To facilitate the uptake of operators purchasing ULEV’s within their fleets, the Council are in the process of installing rapid chargers in council owned and operated carparks. This is hoped to be achieved by the end of 2019 as we have successfully bid for grant funding from the Office of Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV).
Environmental Health are currently in the process of revising the boundaries of the town center Air Quality Management Areas to take into account newly identified areas that are currently not compliant with legal air quality levels. When we develop an action plan to reduce transport related emissions vehicle engine idling could be considered as a direct action.
I hope this provides an overview about what the council are currently doing to try to reduce transport related vehicle emissions to help improve the health and wellbeing of the residents of Northampton.
Gavin Smith | Senior Environmental Health Officer
You can deduce what you want from their response but from my point of view it's the familiar " It's nothing to do with us gov" attitude,
Of course there is always the use of the word "eventually" which means at some undefined point in the future, which in reality means "we don't care about you breathing in toxic fumes at this particular point in time".
"There is legislation that makes it an offence to leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily whilst parked under the Road Vehicle Regulations (1986). A £20 fixed penalty notice can be served under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002. To the best of my knowledge, Northampton Borough Council have not adopted a policy to enforce this legislation thus enforcement officers are not authorized to enforce the legislation".
They enforce parking well enough because it's a source of easy revenue,
I have written the above as man born and bred in Northamptonshire, so my thoughts are not that of a person who has lived somewhere else and is just running Northampton down.
I have travelled widely and I've seen what can be done when things are thought through and above all properly financed, and the difference that can make to the quality of all our lives.
I'm not going to finish on a negative note, here are some pictures of Northamptonshire.