It would appear the ideas that up for discussion are;
- A cider shop with a cider making heritage element
- A marked walked town heritage trail around the Town
- A Community run allotments in tandem with a community run shop selling local produce
- A milk bar as a focus for young people
- A centre for learning crafts and contemporary skills
- Create a series of popular events in market place.
My views on the Town Centre are there are three particular elements that need attention;
The Environment, some progress has be made in recent years with improved shop fronts, however the market place and Town Streets paving is poor, cracked paving slabs with a mish mash of paving slabs, I take the view, a road should be reintroduced into Town Street to recreate a street scene and this would allow service vehicles to use, saving the cracking of the paving slabs.
There needs better lighting within the Town Centre, access from the car parks through to the shops in Great Ostry and Regal road needs attention. The Street furniture needs upgrading, some just needs better maintenance.
The District Council has now received their Urban design statement, these issues have been highlighted.
Town Centre promotion, there are many tremendous shops in Shepton Mallet High Street area, I often wonder if the average consumer knows whats on offer in the retail area, how the retail sector is strengthened by promoting the right shop for the right business? Finally on promotion does the average consumer wants a retail centre to thrive in the High street area?
Business support, is it too simplistic to say, if your shop sells the right product at the right price with the right level of of service and consumers know what's on sale, the business is more likely to succeed?
The other issue is free convenient car parking.
I have pressed for years at the Town Council for the funding of Town Centre events, for me, these events deal with two issues, firstly they attract people into the retail area, secondly they deal with the community engagement of the Town Centre being seen as community space, a place you want to go. This to breakdown the negative atmosphere that sometimes exists around the Town.
I have seen several community led groups form and I have supported them, whether the taskforce, or the Market and Coastal Town initiative (MCTi), having met with the Regional Development Agency on the successful application for the MCTi funding, my advice to any community group would be to keep it simple.
From the MCTi public consultation the main public concerns were;
A New Indoor swimming pool
A New Community Hall
To Improve the Town Centre
Better Bus Services into and out of the Town
From those priorities a lottery bid was submitted for an indoor swimming pool at the Leisure Centre and failed. The Town Council invested £355,000 and the District Council invested £150,000 to improve the outdoor swimming pool.
The new community hall was morphed into a Community and Training Educational Centre, that grew Topsy, with an increasing number of consultants reports, the average Sheptonian wanted a basic community hall, CATEC has not been built nor has a community hall, this community aspiration not met.
Better Bus Services - Shepton has still no direct bus services to Bath or Bristol, other than National Express, so no improvements to destinations, but the Cycleway on the Strawberry line has made progress and the Milestones have been painted.
So, my advice to any community group would be to keep it simple, be very clear on whats to be achieved and keep Sheptonians informed.