‘South Kesteven is open for business’
Businesses and retailers in Grantham helped develop the beginnings of a new visionary action plan for the town centre at a stakeholders networking forum earlier this month.
Local retailers, landowners, Grantham Civic Society and charities joined representatives from SKDC and InvestSK at the forum, which was held at the Grantham Guildhall Ballroom on Thursday, April 13.
As well as presentations and speeches from SKDC and InvestSK they were also joined by London-based design, environment and sustainability consultancy LDA Design, who delivered a presentation, bringing the experience they have gained on major projects across the UK from Aberdeen to Shrewsbury, Plymouth and for University College London at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Other themes discussed included public realm and accessibility, business and property development, environmental management, promoting Grantham as a quality retail destination and the town’s market together with the district’s growing focus on the visitor economy.
Councillor Nick Robins, SKDC Cabinet Member for Retail and Visitor Economy opened the forum.
He said: “One thing that unites us all is to do the best for Grantham, its residents and its visitors, whether it’s finding ways to improve our retail offer and our local economy, growing visitor numbers, improving our public realm or keeping our streets clean. We are transforming South Kesteven into an exciting place to live, work, study, visit and invest.
“We need to work together to develop – and deliver - a new action plan for the town and we’ll be looking at ways to improve Grantham, but the future is beginning to look very positive for the town.
“In October we announced a £40 million investment programme across the district over the next three years, which will include major investments in Grantham, and the creation of InvestSK. Next year we will have a new, state-of-the-art multiplex cinema in the town for the first time, drawing visitors from a wide area and helping support our night time economy.
“Another 3,700 homes are being built to the north of Grantham on Poplar Farm, off Barrowby Road and 4,000 more at the Garden Village. Planning permission has been given to one Designer Outlet Village – with another one due to be considered and just last week, another planning application was submitted for the large vacant site at the corner of Trent Road and Harlaxton Road, promising 75 new jobs.
Our colleagues at the county council have increased the budget for tackling potholes in the town by two thirds, from £600,000 to £1m for the year ahead. Things really are beginning to happen. Our message is clear - South Kesteven is open for business and a great place to visit, live, work and invest.”
Steve Bowyer was next to address the forum. Steve plays a leading role within InvestSK, SKDC’s inward investment and regeneration arm.
He said: “I am new to Grantham and the one thing that struck me was that people are excited about what Granthan was and could be again.
“Retail and markets are changing therefore our High Street and town centre need to change with that. We need to create a town that people want to come to again.”
Ashley Dunseath from LDA Design, specialising in development and regeneration and public realm added: “We need to figure out where the heart of Grantham is. Is it St Peters Hill, Westgate or the High Street? Is it a place that is thriving, holding its own or in decline? People’s thoughts about a place is also critical and we need to challenge and change people’s perception of Grantham.”
Jon Hinde works to support businesses on skills and employment as part of InvestSK. He was positive about the future for businesses in Grantham.
He said: “I work with both new and existing businesses. What I am hearing from businesses is that they want to stay here and grow. Businesses across the region also want to be here and those further afield are hearing the noise and feeling the ambition. But we need an eco system to support investment which includes accessibility, housing, education, availability/affordability and retail.
Councillor Dr Peter Moseley, cabinet member for the Environment, was next to speak. He oversaw the council’s enormously successful Big Clean campaign last year.
He said: “The Big Clean is an ongoing project and I am proud to say that we have now got one of best street standards. £400,000 has been invested on two big clean teams which will be around this year however the project is just solving the problem and not getting to the source. We have now got a fair system in place of enforcing what we class as anti-social behaviour. We are putting Big Clean teams in towns and villages to get the message across that littering is not acceptable. We are also committed to installing electric vehicle charging points in public carparks.”
After the presentations, the guests were invited to share their views in a workshop session.
A long standing retailer, who preferred not to be named said: “I want to warn the panel not to look too far forward and to look after what we have already got. Once a good business is gone it will cost more to bring them back in the future, which is why we need to support them now.
“Our market place is also outdated and needs to be given more of an identity. We need to give people a reason to visit it again.”
Grantham Museum’s project director David Burling would like to see more happening in the town centre and market, adding: “When people hark back to what Grantham used to be, they are thinking about the experience they used to have - walking through the Saturday market and trying food from all over the region.
“One off events like Gravity Fields etc are great but we need to create a regular experience in the town centre too to make people come.”
Chariman of the Civic Society, Courtney Finn, is keen for Grantham’s history to play a part in the new visionary plan.
He said: “We work hard to find ways to celebrate Grantham’s history. We have installed a dozen blue plaques around Grantham with the help of SKDC to celebrate people, places and events. These sort of things interest people and encourages visitors from all over. There are also plans to produce a blue plaque trail.
“We are often seen as a Cinderella town compared to Newark and Stamford but we have got as much history but we just need support.”
David Hindmarch, managing director of Grantham Investments LTD, added: “The key word is nurture. Grantham is never going to have large offices but we have got some great businesses here. That’s what you should be looking after and helping to grow with the help of landlords.”
Vinod Chadda, of Empire, moved to Grantham 19 years ago and has seen a lot of change.
He said: “There was a huge choice of shops when we first arrived, many of which have now gone bust. It is all very well making big plans for the future but we need to look after the businesses that are already here, however I do think the idea of a regular stakeholder networking forum is a good idea.”
Jenni Cussell of John Cussell Jewellers, Westgate, is keen to see more people visiting Westgate.
She added: “Westgate has got lots of great businesses and historical buildings but we need to make it attractive, a place that people can sit ad enjoy the surroundings.”
Alan Asher owns Community Books on nearby Welby Street.
He said: “Welby Street seems to be the poor relation in town. We used to have a nice pedestrian area with planters, which have now gone. They replaced some of the Christmas lights but half went out within a couple of days and were never replaced, so before we talk about progressing, lets keep the standard we have already.”
Grantham Rotarian Roger Graves is keen to look ahead. He said: “It is good to have a starting point and hear the views of the team at InvestSK. I am looking forward to the next forum.”
Coun Robins, added: “We were delighted to see so many businesses at the forum and how passionate and engaged everyone was. The message about needing to take action was very clear and we intend to do exactly that.
“We’re now pooling the ideas and suggestions with our own plans to decide which changes we will be making in the weeks ahead.” SKDC intends to run the forum on a twice-yearly basis and is looking at rolling out a similar programme to Stamford, Bourne and The Deepings.