Sunday, 30 June 2013

Coalville may be in the doldrums (but with bravery and big decisions there is a way out).

No matter who you speak with you will find agreement with the title of this short piece.

Coalville is, or has been, suffering.
Our town has suffered for many years and sadly (despite the valiant efforts of independent retailers, local residents and our council) the waves of dilapidation have rolled tirelessly on.
Everyone you speak with will acknowledge that regeneration is needed.
But there is no simple answer in delivering it, along with the aspiration of prosperity for all. If there was it would have been carried out years ago.
To stand any chance , I believe , of planning for and delivering meaningful improvement we must fully understand the answer to a fundamental question.
What has gone wrong with Coalville?
The answers are many and they are influenced by both local and national considerations.
Out of town shopping
Nationally, over the past twenty years, we have seen a great increase in out of town shopping parks, not only the likes of Fosse Park at Leicester but also locally at Morrisons in Coalville, or Tesco at Ashby. Not only have we witnessed a massive increase in the number of these stores just as worrying has been the expansion of the lines that they offer.
Whilst at one time it was ‘just’ local food traders who were in competition we now regularly see the likes of the major supermarkets undercutting local clothing, hardware and electrical retailers.
Of course saying that ‘all out of town shopping is bad’ massively oversimplifies the matter. We cannot forget that the likes of Morrisons and Tesco have bought many jobs to the area and not least, for the most part, have driven prices down – something most hard working and hard pressed families are grateful for.
Many people have put the case to me that several years ago the Council should have approved a large Asda in Coalville and maybe they should.
Let us not be under any misapprehension that Asda would have been a panacea to regenerating our town. Yes, we would have seen jobs created and bargains available but let us make no mistake (as was also the case with the Tesco application, which was approved) we would have seen a negative impact on our town centre - because we have seen the impact that major supermarkets have on smaller independents before.
Internet and developing technology
I, like many others, love to read. I love to listen to music or when time allows watch a TV box set.
When I was younger I would have gone to What Records in the precinct or, at a push, over to WH Smiths in Loughborough.
There is simply no need for me to do this any longer, and I couldn’t even if I wanted to!
I can get purchases delivered free of charge the next day by Amazon, I can immediately download books to my Kindle or music from iTunes – all at a price significantly cheaper than from a traditional shop.
Of course most people who are into digital products are technologically astute. Which one of us is ever going to choose to pay more for a service and have to face the inconvenience of travelling to a store?
Let us be clear the Internet (and out of town shopping) have had major effects on the high street of EVERY small town in our country.
That is why the Government established Portas Pilots, it is also why those towns who were selected as a focus of the project haven’t seen an immediate boost to regeneration.
Simply put, the rules of the game have changed massively.
Absentee landlords
Not every impact however is national. In Coalville we have a shopping centre which is owned by an absentee pension fund and managed by a company called Workman Retail.
I hear time and time again that the state of Coalville is ‘the Council’s fault’. But the Council don’t own the shopping centre.
If the owners cannot, or choose not, to redevelop the centre or let units then that is entirely up to them.
I can say, without fear of contradiction, no one at the Council whether manager or either of the political parties who have lead the authority have not consistently sought to bring pressure to bear on the centre owners to take a more ‘hands on’ role.
Sadly, so far, that pressure has so far not brought fruit.
Paid for parking has been in operation in Coalville now for approaching ten years.
There is no doubt that parking charges have had an impact on our town and in an ideal world we would get rid of them but we should not overestimate the impact they have had, and most will testify that Coalville had begun to suffer long before their introduction.
Let me be clear. Parking Charges were introduced by Labour into Coalville and Ashby. What is less well known is that when they were introduced both Conservatives and LibDems proposed to introduce them throughout the district.
I am not trying to say ‘it wasn’t us’ but I do want to make clear all of the political parties were calling for parking charges of one form or another.
The question must be why were charges introduced?
And the answer is simple.
Car parks cost the council many thousands of pounds a year to operate in business rates and maintenance. Even ten years ago the Council were starting to plan for financially tough times and were having to question where cuts could be made.
The Council had to ask if the vast amount spent on car parks, essentially for no return (remember they do not own any of the retail properties in town - or get rent from them) was worth it?
If it came to spending a couple of hundred thousand pounds on car parks, or cutting it from another service, or increasing council tax which was the right decision?
Of course we must now ask, having seen the impact of parking (amongst other factors), how could the charges ever be reversed? How could the council take on a new liability of hundreds of thousands in existing budgets?
The answer is simply realistically they cannot.
So where do we go from here?
I have painted a bleak picture and indeed we must be realistic – it is.
But we should not be despondent.
For a start Coalville has some great independent traders who want to work hard for our town.
We have local people who are only too eager to want to spend money and leisure time here – but the offer must be right.
We have Councillors who want to act as a catalyst for regeneration and who I believe are dedicated to delivering it.
But for all the good will and hard work we face a tough battle.
I hear time and time again it would be great to see Next in Coalville, or Marks and Spencer, or an Odeon.
Does anyone for one minute honestly believe that any of these companies (or any one of many others) have not been approached or are not aware of every empty unit or vacant piece of land in town?
Every one of the national multiple retailers have teams dedicated to acquisition and they are all acutely aware of the possible opportunities that are available.
But their decisions are not brought about by anyone asking for a cinema to be built they are based on cold, hard data.
Demographics are everything to the national multiples and we must face the fact that right now Coalville isn’t attractive to them. We neither have the size of population or, for the most part, the disposable income to make opening higher end stores profitable to the degree they require. But that doesn’t mean we will always be in that situation.
I believe over the coming years we have a real opportunity to regenerate our town but it will take big decisions.
We must appreciate that the major multiples will only come when we have a larger and more affluent demographic to offer them. That can only be delivered by significant numbers of new homes being built which will serve both those commuting to nearby major centres and new jobs being created locally.
We also need to be acutely aware that the nature of town centres must and will change. We simply don’t need, with the changing face of retail, the number of shopping units we currently have.
We must embrace change to our town centre. Coalville must be a town where ultimately we want to spend our leisure time, to go out for a drink or a meal in the evening.
We need to have an offer of shops which compliments those things we can’t get on the internet or at big box stores. We need to have the tactile experience of being able to buy speciality clothing  through great local independent stores, or even something as simple as the opportunity to handle the fruit we want to buy.
But we also need to say we probably have at least 15 units (of differing sizes) more than we actually need, or will ever need, in the current climate.
I believe we need our landlords, and the council, to say get rid of those units and bring homes back to our town centres.
With new build on our town centre brownfield sites we bring a vibrancy back of an area which is lived in and where not only the residents of that immediate area will want to spend their time in.
But all of this takes big decisions.
I don’t subscribe to the view that anyone is failing in delivering regeneration, in fact I've been massively impressed by some recent developments - the new Thringstone Co-op, the rejuvenation of McDonalds or yesterday's Motorfest.

We all want to see our town thrive, whether that be the Coalville Town Team, Councillors or lately (and very welcome too) local residents expressing a view through Change Coalville.

But we must realise that as our economy, and for that matter our world, changes Coalville must go forward and embrace those changes and grow stronger.

I know that the people of our town can deliver just that.
You may not agree with me about my vision for the future of our town and that is more than OK.
But it would be great to hear more views because only by working together can we deliver real regeneration.


  1. Very interesting reading Leon.Perhaps Coalville needs to be lead by example!A few years ago Loughborough had a big debate about letting Sainsburys build on their present site so near to the town centre.But it turned out it was a good decision as it took people into the centre.Market Street,before Sainsburys,was dying.

    1. Good point Tony.

      It's important to note though that whilst nearly all market towns have struggled over the past few years the reaons may differ as to why based on local circumstances.

      When I take a look at Loughborough (around Sainsburys) the main thing I notice is that shops around that area cater not only to locals but also the student market, for example takeaways, sports shops, bike shops etc.

      I don't think, although I may well be wrong, that Sainsburys does much to increase footfall into town. It would be interesting to know if any market research has been carried out?

  2. I am glad you mentioned Motorfest Coalville.

    On Saturday 29th July Coalville town centre became the biggest car-show room in Leicestershire as hundreds of visitors sashayed through the precinct from one site to the next. There were cars to suit all pockets on show.

    I loved the sliding doors on a black Ford – a super idea for anyone carrying less able passengers – and the low-cost runabouts gave me some food for thought as I contemplate my next vehicle.

    The Coalville Town Team were out in force in their orange jackets, co-ordinating an event that made use of all that is great about our town.

    The Hunslet diesel shunter took visitors from the tiny station platform at the back of da Vinci’s coffee shop up to Snibston Museum. The Century Theatre, a folding blue box, was advertising its programme of music and film. Children were playing in the science park at a special discount rate.

    My particular favourite of the veteran and vintage stands has to be the Hillman Imp. I am old enough to remember the days when securing a boyfriend with one of these was a high priority.

    This event is special – not just because it was a success in putting Coalville and Motors on the map. It is also special because it made use of every single one of the assets our community needs to be proud of.

    As I wandered around – wearing my high-vis jacket (purchased from the workwear shop opposite the mining offices) – I got to eat Holmes the Butcher’s burgers, cooked by HermitageFM, in front of their new premises (supplied by East Midlands Housing) and listened to our community station drawing more people into the town.

    I saw customers from the Red House helping the radio station to move tables around to maximise trade and started a conversation with one of the local shop owners who wants to support more events like this, because they know this is how we can make money.

    Not everyone was happy. One local man, standing next to an enthusiastic motor salesman, was convinced that Coalville Town Centre needs to be flattened and started again.

    On Tuesday, the bankers who own the precinct are going to the planning committee at North West Leicestershire District Council to offer to do just that.

    They offered to do this 3 years ago – promising big name traders, a cinema and a new market place. They didn’t get around to it, but the planning permission boosted their capital base, so they’re back again to try to keep it going.

    Coalville doesn’t need a fake Fairy Godmother, waving her magic wand and showering us with starlight. The failed promise to relocate the market and rebuild the precinct has blighted our town for 3 years, encouraging people to plan for a future that ain’t gonna happen, meanwhile neglecting the great stuff we do have.

    Such as:-

    An iconic memorial square, soon to have its own radio station with the capacity to put on music events with minimum cost.

    Next door,a heritage pub – the Red House – a building that was here before the mines and the brickworks – with great beer and a big outdoor drinking space.

    A string of specialist eateries all along Hotel Street including La Torre (50% discount at Motorfest) and Imge, a great Turkish restaurant.

    A town centre bristling with buildings associated with our local hero George Smith – Victorian campaigner for the health and wellbeing of women, children and industrial workers

    I could go on…and I will, but not today.

    As a County Councillor, I want to work with the Town Team. Their ‘glass half full’ approach is what we need.

    Rather than buying lottery tickets and dreaming of Marks and Spencers, we should to follow the Town Team’s example - sweat our community assets and get our classy clothes from Cayman Reef.

    Perhaps, as a local district councillor, you might like to learn how to challenge the 'deficit model' and read this:-

    1. Hi Terri,

      I think you are absolutely right - our independent traders are a crucial element in the future for a vibrant market town, and we have some great ones in Coalville.

      I don't know any successful town that isn't a mix of independents and national multiples, part of what the council has to do - through the planning process - is make the trading environment appealing to both classes of retailer.

  3. Nowhere in your long article is the problem of communication apart from parking fees mentioned. There is a complete lack of public transport available after 6p.m. and nothing on Sunday. Our district covers a very large geographical area Young people have no way of getting into Coal ville or Ashby. The etablisment of an modern cinema is not viable so people have to go to Loughborough or further afield. Visiting the community hospital without private transport is most upsetting to people visiting sick relatives. What is Leicester county Council's answer to this? Cut the grants to bus services and remove the disabled bus pass concessions.
    U less you create a demand supported by facilities you will never create the supply of services.

  4. Would love know if the parking meters in our town now cover the cost of their up keep and cover the costs of traffic wardens including their uniforms, cars, holiday pay and pensions!! As afew years ago there was a short fall of £30,000 which am sure was paid for by the pax payer,
    the meters were put in Ashby 1st and foot fall fell, so why knowingly put in to practice in coalville what had already failed in Ashby??? No brainer eh,
    and before more houses can be built around coalville transport connections need to be sorted weither that be road or rail,

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      It would be very interesting to find out.

      Why not ask the question to North West Leicestershire District Council?

      Did you know as a member of the public, you can ask questions (following a set procedure) at Council Meetings? If you want help setting one out I'd be more than happy to assist.