Maintaining the retail offer in Maidenhead during regeneration and keeping the High Street
To receive a presentation from Stephanie James, Maidenhead Town Manager (RBWM) on the above titled item.
Steph James, Maidenhead Town Manager, gave a presentation regarding factors affecting the town centre and how these could be mitigated whilst major regeneration work was carried out. Members were told that the national picture showed a reduction in high street footfall, with one in every five pounds spent on shopping being spent online. This had led to major national retailers closing stores across the country, which had the knock-on effect of reducing footfall and therefore damaging other, smaller retailers. Steph James said that town centres had had to adapt to ensure continuation of footfall as a result. The Town Partnership had set up a large programme of free events to run throughout the year to encourage visitors and increase footfall. Events included the free outdoor cinema experience of Maidenhead at the Movies and the Christmas Lights Switch On. Events have been branded under ‘Enjoy Maidenhead’, however this would be changing to ‘Make Maidenhead’ to reflect the fact the town centre was subject to major regeneration. Many events were organised by the community, including the Maidenhead Festival and the Zombie Walk.
Steph James told the Forum that there was a focus on targeting office workers who may not live in the area but significantly add to the weekday footfall, by emphasising the growing food and drink offers in the town and sharing and promoting regeneration news. There was still a negative perception that there was little by way of choice in terms of eating out in Maidenhead. It was important to promote the accessibility and connectivity of the town, especially during periods of disruption from regeneration works.
In the presentation Steph James highlighted the concept of pop up businesses, where a business could hold a short-term lease of a vacant unit to test and then refine a particular venture. Usually these would be shops but could also be used for community events or art galleries. Steph James said these had been successful in the past as they gave people greater confidence to test new ideas if the lease was only done on a short-term basis. She informed the Forum that Craft Coop had been running as a permanent business venture for ten years after starting off as a pop up shop. She added that it was likely that long-term empty units would be taken up by smaller independent retailers rather than multinationals.
A database of landlords was being created with a view to offering pop up business ventures to them to improve the viability of the town centre. Early indications showed landlords were generally supportive of this. Steph James said there was a misconception that landlords did not want vacant units occupied; rates still had to be paid on an empty unit. There were also misconceptions that business rates were set by the Council when in fact it was done by central government, and that the Council owned any vacant units in the town centre and had control over who could lease them, when this was not the case.
Responding to a question regarding car parking, Cllr Dudley stated he accepted there were issues with the current machines and they could be used fraudulently by people inputting false details. A new system would be used in the redeveloped Nicholsons car park, and ways of making the Advantage cards more sophisticated and harder to use fraudulently were being looked into. Cllr Dudley said the new car park would have 1,050 spaces – up from the current 750 – and was three and a half years away from completion.
Cllr Baskerville asked if consideration had been given to marketing Maidenhead as a niche town for the arts. Cllr Dudley said a paper going to September’s Cabinet, then Full Council, would recommend a budget for investment in the Desborough Suite, and that more information on creating an art hub would become available later in the year. Steph James said there was a large creative and cultural community in Maidenhead and it was important to embrace this. However Maidenhead was still looking into what its potential niche could be, and influence was being drawn from a number of towns rather than Maidenhead seeking to emulate any one town.
Responding to a point from Cllr Reynolds regarding the potential permanent loss of some retailers during regeneration works, Steph James stated that support was available in the form of business relief or short term business rates. However it was noted that businesses needed to be proactive in applying for support and marketing themselves. Steph James said the current thinking was that the redeveloped Nicholsons Centre would have 50 units, although discussions regarding the footprints of each individual unit still needed to take place and there was uncertainty around which retailers would remain in Maidenhead. There were currently 160 businesses on a database, who would receive marketing and share other information. Cllr Dudley informed Members that it was the responsibility of a shopping centre and the Town Centre Manager to help businesses relocate. He stated that a priority was to find a new location for the town centre post office.
Members were told that a Developers’ Forum had been set up to facilitate meetings between the various developers involved in the regeneration projects and the Council, in order to coordinate the future vision for the various redevelopments taking place. A marketing suite would be installed in the York Road development early in the new year. It was also suggested that the Town Hall could be used as a marketing suite.
Cllr Dudley stated that the works would have no impact on the town centre Conservation Area.