Contrary to the headlines in the local press the town centre Summit report was a balanced assessment of the towns fortunes and was as careful to endorse the positive strides the town has made over the last three years as it was to point a finger where criticism is still due. Although restricted traffic flow around the town has not been ideal for businesses, the development of the bus interchange, the railway station, St Peters way/Waterside and the student flats at St John's are all positive changes around the town and completion of these is now only months away. The report also praises the hard work of the BID and the success of the annual Music Festival, and other events that bring people to the town in large numbers. Looking at the annual footfall figures it is clear that without such events the town would have fared less well.
In the same period as Summit contributors considering their input, a number of property deals were occurring around the town and many of them positively reflected the flexible approach that the planning system is now being urged to take. Office properties such as Stirling House, Spencer House, John Clare House, Castle House, Fairfields, 11 Spencer Parade, & 1 Spencer Parade have all changed hands with a view to being redeveloped for residential or alternative uses. This accounts for office space for over a thousand people and, thankfully for the town centre, their footfall will be replaced when the County Council move back into Angel Street. In the meantime for which read the next three years – the town centre is left to fend for itself; the suits have gone and, as the report points out, there is already a higher than average shop vacancy ratio.
It is interesting to note that companies or partnership agencies wishing to relocate in the town centre to be close to the new County Council offices may well struggle to find accommodation and if demand outstrips supply this may lead to rental increases. Our advice to our clients is therefore to ensure that their properties are well presented and offer flexible accommodation to suit the market and to this end we have just refurbished the second floor of 82 Abington Street Northampton to provide 2000 ft.² of air-conditioned offices and 9 parking spaces.
In the retail market, as larger units become available as a result of churn (internal movement in the market) it is possible that these units may well attract metro/local supermarkets to service the larger number of residential householders around the town centre itself. Whilst this may fill vacancies it will not offer a wider range of attractions to potential visitors and intervention may be required to ensure a broad offer is maintained, commensurate with the town’s County Town status.
As the Summit Report says, events will become increasingly important as part of a fundamental change in thinking and approach towards the challenges faced by our town centre.