Sunday, April 10, 2011

Vision or Pipe Dream?

I grew up in Norton, proud of Stockton High Street as the widest in the country, visiting it regularly and knowing it as “the town”.  The market, in existence in one form or another from 1310, was an attraction for the residents of pit villages in Durham as well as more locally.  The Shambles, with its row upon row of butchers’ stalls selling fresh meat, was a sight to behold.
Then in the 1960s “modernisation” struck and over a couple of decades beautiful old buildings were changed almost beyond recognition with their ground floors turned into clones of shops everywhere else with vast areas of plate glass windows and plastic name plates while others were demolished and replaced.  A lethal cocktail of secrecy and apathy meant that the voices of those who loved the High Street were ignored and the downward spiral went unchecked.
The town turned its back on the river which had been the centre of trade and industry for generations, and built a dual carriageway between town and river as though to separate them for ever.  Yet at the same time Tees Barrage was built and the river became cleaner and more picturesque than for hundreds of years.
Through the subsequent decades there have been attempts to reverse the decline, mostly well intentioned but ill thought out.  Cars were taken out of the High Street, but buses, taxis and delivery vehicles weren’t.
The meat market moved out of the Shambles into a new concrete "centre" but lost its soul mixed in with everything else and competing with supermarkets.  The market was moved slightly, then put back again.  An open air café was erected, with councillors being told it was temporary and could be removed to make room for events, but then being told it couldn’t be moved and so the market had to make way for the events instead.  One part of Stockton Council would champion the market while another would call for it to be moved to make way for something more in keeping with the vision they had of how the town centre should look.
Now, the latest consultation is going on.  A “Town Centre Prospectus” has been produced.  We are told that private investment is likely to be forthcoming.  The link to the river will be reintroduced, albeit only visually.  The Globe Theatre will reopen, cars will be allowed to park at the ends of the High Street again.  A new site for the Taxi rank will be found.  And most controversially, the market will be compacted into a smaller area to make it once again into the bustling, crowded, busy market it once was. 
There are many details that need working out, not least how the market will retain its character if moved into a smaller area and how stalls can keep their character if forced to have a uniform appearance.  I’m not at all convinced that the proposals are the right solution, but I do think a solution needs to be found.  We must stop the stupidity of having to negotiate with stall holders every time an event such as the International Riverside Festival is held.  We need a space which can house events and also allow for just walking about and meeting up with people when we have lovely weather like that we’ve enjoyed for the last few days.  But we also need our market stallholders to be happy or they will find somewhere else to go and we’ll be much worse off than at present.  We need something that encourages retailers large and small to come and open in the High Street and in the smaller streets off it and parallel to it.  We need to have good places to eat and drink and relax as well as places to buy our food and clothing and household bits and pieces. 
So, does the prospectus offer a vision for the future or is it another pipe dream to be lost in the practicalities of life as it’s lived?  Perhaps only time will tell but I feel a bit more optimistic about this one which seems to have some support at least from more than just council officers.
Maybe it's spring in more ways than one.  Maybe my grandchildren will enjoy Stockton centre as much as I did when growing up?  Let's hope.

1 comment:

treeclimber said...

Try sorting a school place out over here in Ingleby. We have a first rate school, but there are only 600 places. We argued that preston park was an ideal site to serve both Eaglescliffe and Ingleby.Thankfully that plan stimulated the debate we needed and we are getting a second school.
I agree that some schools are not maintained to a high standard, but this is the fault of the head teachers. Funds more than adequate were available in the last decade to maintain existing facilites. However some headteachers with one eye on the future decided not to apply for this funding. This was in the hope that if the school appeared to be falling down they would get a new one built.
Its time parents took control of the Governing bodies of schools to make sure that their children get the best out of what is available. bad planning by some heads has and is playing fast and loose with the childrens future.