Town chiefs plan to tackle Northampton's 'identity crisis' by launching new masterplan
Town chiefs say they have taken on board traders'Â concerns about the impact of Rushden Lakes in drawing up a new masterplan forÂ Northampton.
Last week the Chronicle and Echo met with a group of business owners to take an honest look at the town centre just weeks before the ribbon is cut on a £140 million shopping development in the north of the county.
And their feedback was clear - cleanliness, a lack of big name stores, the absence of signposting and clogged roads around the bus station are hitting their takings.
They made a united call to town bosses, to carve out a new niche for itself by making more of its rich history.
Leader of Northampton Borough Council, Councillor Jonathan Nunn (Con, Nene Valley) said he has taken the concerns on board - adding that the borough council and Northampton BID are currently working on a 'town plan' to address what was called Northampton's identity crisis.
She said: "Northampton Town Centre Business Improvement District (BID) has pulled together a retail strategy and is currently working with Northampton Borough to have this incorporated into a comprehensive town plan.
"This town has an amazing story to tell, with an incredibly rich history, some outstanding buildings, parks and other attractions that very few towns can match, and we can bring these together to create a compelling offer."
Councillor Nunn said the cultural quarter has been the focus of much of the work to the town centre so far and noted that recently, the Errol Flynn cinema had expanded to a second screen.
But he did say there was scope to 'integrate' the neatly paved streets around Guildhall Road with the rest of the town.
The market place, he added, will form a big part of the new town plan.
"Northampton’s Market Square is a key asset for the town and all partners are considering ways in which that can be made better use of," he said, without stating any specific plans.
"Some of the necessary infrastructure is already in place, we just need consider how we build and capitalise on that."
The Greyfriars development will be key to linking the Grosvenor Centre with the rest of the town, he said, though some of the traders the Chron spoke to thought plans for a multi-screen cinema marked a wasted opportunity for the four-acre former bus station site, with the Vue cinema at Sol Central so close by.
On congestion, Councillor Nunn said the council plans to tackle the traffic around the North Gate bus station by making number plate recognition cameras a permanent fixture there and introducing a new one-way system.
On cleanliness, The Business Improvement District (BID) is set to fund additional 'cleaning services' - on top of the orange street sweeping machine doing the rounds- and the council has just agreed to extend the trial that saw patrolling enforcementt officers dishing out on-the-spot fines to litterbugs.
However, in recent months BID has faced criticism over its work from a group of traders, who are refusing to pay their yearly levy.
Chair of the organisation, which has put in place to improve the town environment via a referendum in 2011, Jessica D'Aulerio, like Councillor Nunn, declined to be interviewed about the opening of Rushden Lakes this week.
However, in a statement, she said there was currently a 'buzz' around Northampton with plans in place to make it a purple flag town.
The accreditiation is given to urban areas recognised for their safety in the nighttime economy, though Northampton has been hit by a recent spate of violent nighttime assaults in recent weeks.
She said: "We understand that some may see the opening of Rushden Lakes as a challenge, but we see it as an opportunity to really showcase everything that is unique about Northampton town centre.
“Northampton should not be trying to be like other shopping venues such as Rushden Lakes or Milton Keynes, Northampton provides something different – an historic marketplace, a
strong leisure and entertainment offer, a mix of niche independent shops and high- street names, and some fantastic places to eat and drink."