Before we get into the latest news about the town centre consultation I'd like to show you some great sketches done by a lady called Jean,
This is her site, take a look she has some great stuff on here, and thank you Jean for letting me post these up on my site. All the sketches I have posted are of places in Northampton, but there's loads more to see on Jeans site.
I particularly like the one depicting Carlsberg and Abington Park which I'll be mentioning later on in this post.
So I was perusing Twitter earlier in the week and came across a tweet by the Chronicle & Echo which was reporting about and I quote "There is a perceived lack of cleanliness in the town centre". "Perceived poor street cleanliness putting people off visiting the town".
The article also mentioned that out of a population of over 200,000 people only just over 700 had responded to the Councils consultation laying out it's proposals for possible improvements.
The Council had said that they many people had responded positively to some of the ideas put forward, and this predictably drew a scathing response from some quarters.
As soon as the tweet went out some people on another very popular social media portal were saying that there should be no building on the towns historic market square as to do so would destroy its character etc.
Now correct me if I'm wrong but apathy is more often than not taken as consent, and if people felt so strongly they should have registered these feelings on the consultation website,
The article went on to say that footfall in the town centre had dropped by 700,000 on last year, a huge figure, and then expanded on this by asking the question "Is Rushden Lakes drawing people away" ?.
Well in my opinion the answer is yes, and it doesn't take long to work out why, what has Rushden Lakes got that our town centre hasn't ?.
Again an easy question to answer and that one visit will answer for you, its a complete no brainer.
Rushden Lakes is a relatively new development and was purpose built, it didn't evolve over a long period of time like the town centre and it has all the advantages that that brings.
Ok you have to drive to RL but once you arrive there is a huge amount of parking which is free for up to five hours, I'm not extolling the virtues of out of town shopping complexes just doing a contrast and compare before anyone gets their eco hat on.
With the amount of traffic generated that's really the last thing we need, putting more cars on the road is just increasing bad air quality, and it's becoming apparent that this will have dire consequences for our health in the not too distant future.
RL has a wide variety of shops, an M&S food hall, and lots of other nice food outlets which cater for nearly everybody, numerous clothes outlets, lots of good quality stuff on show and for sale, all in a nice clean environment, with the added bonus of the lakes as a backdrop.
Contrast this with our town centre which is full of charity shops and budget stores, and while I use charity shops myself I think a good town centre should have so much more if its going to be worth visiting, and above all the overall environment should be clean and safe.
When St Giles street was repaved the whole look and feel of the street was vastly improved and its probably the only street I would want to show anyone who was visiting the town from oversea's.
The success of RL is proof that there is still a call for shopping and proves that although a lot of shopping is done online that doesn't have to mean the death of the high street.
This being the case there must be lots of other factors such as the general environment and the perception of a relaxed and trouble free shopping experience that the town centre doesn't currently offer.
So to compete with the likes of RL our town centre has lots of catching up to do, a good example of where we are going wrong is an exchange of emails I had with Andrea Leadsom some yearsback when Gold Street had just been repaved.
The paving had been done well and I believe a lot of money had been spent to get it looking good again, but within a few days chewing gum was being spat out and being trodden into the new paving stones.
When the paving was laid common sense would dictate the asking the question "why don't we put something protective substance onto the stone to make cleaning them off a lot easier" ?, apparently that hadn't been done.
I emailed Andrea Leadsom and asked why as money had been spent why hadn't that investment been protected, I can't remember the exact reply she gave but it didn't inspire me to feel that our town was being well served.
Going back to the perception that the town centre is dirty, do you remember when Veolia won the contract for street cleansing and recycling in Northampton ?
I seem to recall certain pledges being made, one being that they would carry out a deep clean in the town centre, did that ever happen ? does anyone recall a particularly bad area that was cleaned up ?.
Here is what Veolia said at the time -
"We are very pleased to have been given the opportunity to improve the local environment for the communities in Northampton".
"Street cleansing will focus on improving standards across the borough and the grounds maintenance service will deal with all area's of public open space with particular attention on Northampton's premier park in Abington.
So I thought I'd take a look at Abington Park one evening after work, here's what I saw.
Over the years the park has won awards and walking around it in the early evening light it was easy to see why.
I was generally impressed with how clean and litter free it was, there was some litter but given it the school holidays and the park is being heavily used by parents with their children I though it looked pretty clean.
When I was young there as a boating lake and some nice gardens, those sadly have disappeared, well not strictly true, the lake is there but no boats, the gardens are there but no longer looked after and planted out.
Probably a cost cutting measure but for all that the park is a lovely place just to walk around, or visit the aviary and look at the birds, which kids loved when I was young and still seem to.
Abington Park is still somewhere I would take a visitor from overseas which is something I couldn't in all honesty say about some parts of the town, When you see a park and all those glorious trees and wildlife it lifts you up.
That above all is what we all need, we need to be inspired, uplifted and be able to see nature in the heart of our towns, I hope the Council will make use of the empty site of the old bus station and if greened that would be a massive improvement to the town generally.
It would help cut pollution, and give people somewhere pleasant to sit and contemplate what a great town Northampton is for all its faults, the people of the town deserve no less.