Council To Wreck City

Coming soon to a High Town near you: lots and lots of empty shops.

Butchers! Bakers! Candlestick makers! Forget it, they’ve all closed down!

“We’ve got to avoid preservation,” the words of Jonathan Bretherton, ESG Herefordshire chief executive, speaking to a recent public meeting about the plans for the Edgar Street Grid.

The meeting, organised by the Hereford Civic Society, was told how the city should become a tourist destination for day-trippers by encouraging top name retailers to set up shop here.

Among the plans are a hotel with banqueting facilities, a Waitrose food hall and more trendy wine bars. Who’s going to be using those then? Not the people of Hereford. Other plans include a new leisure quarter on the site of the cattle market, a civic quarter with new library as well as houses and new office space. There is no doubt that Hereford will benefit from these being so close to the existing city centre.

The major flaw in the plan is a new retail development outside the existing shopping core of High Town. With shops surely to be closing left, right and centre this will destroy the existing character of the town, which already has around 40 vacant shops.

Hereford’s Buttermarket stallholders have recently formed an Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) after fears were raised that they would be ignored by Herefordshire Council when drawing up plans to redevelop the indoor market. As it stands, the Buttermarket is likely to be severely affected by the ESG development.

“It is essential that the existing traders are protected during the regenerations works,” Len Tawn, chairman of the BIRA, told the Hereford Heckler. The Independent Retailers Association now has 100% membership of stall holders within the market, but will the council listen to its traders …?

ESG Herefordshire, in collaboration with London developers Stanhope, are also wheeling out the old chestnut of a new multi-screen cinema in their plans; so far, the only concrete idea they’ve had to appeal specifically to young people. We have to be a bit cynical though. No one goes to the existing Odeon partly because it’s old and uncomfortable but partly because everyone gets the latest films on TV now anyway. It’s a populist idea they’re using to sweeten a bitter pill of shops, trendy wine bars and, er, more shops. Oh, and a new multi-story car park that will replace the old one that’s earmarked for demolition.

The solution to Hereford’s apparently poor economy is to invite large corporations into the city where the majority of the money spent will be taken out by international shareholders. Yet more low paid menial jobs will be created. Big shiny department stores will dazzle us. This is an easy solution, but we should be looking at what Hereford has already got and how to work within those qualities.

In 1845 Hereford finally opened its canal after 68 years of work towards this goal. The canal was in operation for 17 years but was closed due to the railways taking its place as the dominant form of transport. Is Hereford about to repeat the same mistake, redeveloping an area based upon attracting retail tourists just before we stop travelling long distances to shop? Welcome to the Hereford Ghost Town.

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