Town Centre Masterplan

I see there is talk of another £150 K to further explore the idea of Northampton's Town Centre Masterplan. Before further 'exploration' is done, there are any number of basic questions to be answered. Only if these are given satisfactory answers should money be spent exploring further.

To begin with, surely any integrated redevelopment scheme for the town centre should include the Market Walk shopping centre, formerly Peacock Place? It was a disappointment to read in the Chronicle that it was back on the market again, at double the price it fetched at auction only a few months ago. Only a couple of years ago it tried to rebrand itself as a food and restaurant centre, but got no takers, so failed miserably. What makes the planners so sure that a hall on the market square for the same purpose would have any more success?

Secondly, for hundreds of years bye-laws based on the Royal Market Charter granted to Northampton have precluded building any fixed properties on the market square. This is one of the reasons several such schemes have failed in the past. A long process in law would have to be gone through to nullify the Royal Charter and change the bye-laws correspondingly. Which could be liable to judicial review at many stages of the proceedings, so that if there was any organised opposition, the case could drag on for years and years. So it is no good imagining you can build on the market square without first looking into the legalities involved, to see if it would be possible to repeal the Charter and change existing laws, and with whose permission, and at what cost.

Thirdly, Northampton Market Square is a piece of history, one of the few we have left in the town, most having been destroyed over the past 100 years. Would English Heritage and other such bodies allow such large buildings to be built over our historic square, thereby hiding some of the remaining historic buildings like Welsh House from public view? Another problem facing any such plans for redevelopment of our town centre, presumably to attract a greater influx of people, is that of parking. What is the position regarding the medium-term life of the concrete of the Mayorhold Car Park? How long will the present parking areas last? Five years? Ten years? It is well-known that the concrete is slowly crumbling around the rusting steel supports within, so the 'where will they park?' question is something that has to be fed into the equation.

These are only a few of the issues surrounding this Masterplan, which is at the present time only an architects vision. On the plus side, an injection of government money might trigger private finance into building any number of new flats in the town centre. But unless those who live in them are content with bicycles, they too will need to have parking spaces. We already have a parking problem with the number of students who have flats in the town centre, so the influx of hundreds or even thousands more people living in flats can only make the parking problem a great deal worse.

Also on the plus side is that these new people living in the town centre will be likely to shop locally, so local retailers will stand to benefit. If they can hang on that long, of course. But the general trend is for people outside town centres to come in for shopping less and less often, either patronising local retail centres where shopping is concentrated into a much smaller area, or visiting retail parks where parking is plentiful and free, or simply ordering their supplies online, and getting them delivered. Good luck with the 'exploration', but ask yourselves a few important questions first.