There has been a very interesting discussion this weekend on social media about who owns Marlborough’s shops. Behind this is concern over the spate of empty premises in the High St and what we have to do to keep the High St a buzzing hub of our community. The debate is all about promoting footfall into the shops and encouraging not only the local community to shop offline but also to capture the attention of passing travellers.
It is not correct to say – as Marlborough town council appear to say emphatically – that empty shops are not their responsibility. The Town Council (MTC) should be encouraging the environment to promote a vibrant growth in our business and residential communities. Front and centre to this is an attractive first impression of the town and one of the most important components of this is an integrated transport strategy. Such a transport strategy is an essential part of the town’s development. We should not just be having fragmented debates on whether 20mph is a good idea. MTC should grasp the nettle and reach out to where we want to be in the future. That includes encouraging an integrated High Street environment that is bustling with big and small retail business.
We should step back and ask ourselves what do we really want from the whole road environment in Marlborough. Now, credit where it’s due, WC Highways have produced an extremely competent effort with their Metrocount report and their recommendations place 3 options on the table for discussions (have you voted yet?). But we need to think for ourselves.
In an ideal world, when drivers enter the High Street it could and should be like driving into a safe haven. The much missed Jazz Festival gave us a glimpse of the goal, albeit in a no traffic situation. The relaxed environment was unmissable. But this is not an anti-car debate. Vehicles are our means of doing business, going to work and getting about. Marlborough is a thriving market town at the crossroads of two very busy trunk roads. It is these roads that have, down the centuries, made Marlborough prosperous. Our community must live with vehicles or our community will lose the oxygen of prosperity.
For instance, we could be talking about a continental style town centre format with tree planting and banner decoration in the centre areas and coloured road marking together with a 20mph limit to calm the traffic. We should also ban transiting HGVs from the High Street. This is the kind of reach out thinking that MTC should be championing and not sideslipping any discussion of traffic management or how to develop the town centre. Encourage a better environment and we’ll find that more shops will follow. Build it and they will come.
Only in this way will drivers experience entering a place that is valued by its community and that they need to respect that. It’s like taking your shoes off when you enter a friend’s house.