Making our towns fit for the future29 October 2020
In this month’s think piece for the Yorkshire Post, Sue Anderson Brown, manager of Scarborough’s Brunswick Shopping Centre, discusses how towns can be fit for the future.
Covid is having an unexpected impact. It’s providing an opportunity to accelerate much-needed change in towns to make them fit for the 21st Century.
Right now, it’s very difficult for all businesses as there’s so much uncertainty. There’s also a difficult balancing act in trying to encourage people to come out and shop and feel safe but within the boundaries of Covid restrictions. How we live, work, shop and go on holiday is certainly no longer the same but I think this all provides a new direction for towns. While it’s devastating to see so many businesses closing, now is not the time to stand still. Towns, and town centre high streets, can evolve and attract new investment to help them thrive.
Scarborough is where I work and October is a landmark month. Our £25m Town Investment Plan is set to be formalised before being submitted to government. I’m a business representative on the board for the Scarborough Town Deal – work which is led by Scarborough Borough Council – and the process so far has been very engaging. Everyone has pulled together – it’s a shared vision and a recognition that Scarborough really has to have that investment if we are to see any growth. The £25m we’re looking for only scratches the surface but not only would it fund a variety of improvements across the town, it would provide a springboard for more inward investment. The process has allowed the board, as a team of stakeholders, to look at what the fundamental issues are to reverse a downward trend in investment, jobs, health aspects for the community, and instil a sense of passion and pride. The town is demonstrating that it knows what the problems are and how they can be addressed, and I think that is key to unlocking investment opportunities.
I’m really passionate about how we reposition our town centre, which I see as the beating heart of the community. You cannot have a disjointed and disparate town centre offer and expect to reach the fulfilment of the wider community. There has to be a central point people come into and one that reaches outwards. Right now, I see our high street as being in need of some TLC – but it can have a fantastic future.
I’m excited about how the town centre’s role could expand, offering more cultural attractions, better accessibility and places to meet. A town centre doesn’t have to just be about retail, our town deal proposal will better connect Scarborough town centre with the seafront, using cultural and digital connectivity to create positive change and give people more reasons to connect within our town.
It all adds up to making Scarborough a really attractive place to live, work and visit day and night, for young and old, which I know it can be. We’ve already got a great foundation and a whole host of assets – we can build on this. I see the retention of young people and families in the town as a key point, which is an issue shared by many coastal towns as people leave to seek better opportunities. I believe that work being done in our borough to understand the needs of young people and young families to help future planning will really help. Covid has influenced a shift in where people want to be based and it has shone a light on the need for better digital connectivity. I’m pleased to see this is a focus in the Town Deal. Improved digital infrastructure will create new opportunities, connecting people to jobs, to culture and importantly to our communities.
I’ve been interested to see the 21st Century Towns report from the York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership. Recommendations for towns across the region in areas such as improving transport links, digital connectivity, repurposing town centre spaces and making the very best of our existing assets all carry weight and can be used as a blueprint for local towns seeking change. There’s certainly a symmetry in this work with the aims of the Town Deal, which has a focus on urban regeneration, improving skills and enterprise infrastructure and connectivity, and is a resource that has been used as part of our Town Investment Plan development.
For me, the Town Deal process demonstrates that collaborative working between the community, the private and public sector can really yield results. It’s where I feel there perhaps have been problems in the past, when there hasn’t been a united front on how the town can move forward. That can be a lesson for other towns too.
I also believe it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure we don’t leave the disadvantaged and demoralised behind – we need to take everyone with us and not leave a section of our community behind, creating an even wider gap of the haves and have nots.
While day-to-day life in this pandemic remains challenging, I’m feeling encouraged about the future of Scarborough and particularly for our town centre.
You may also be interested in this webinar
Major economic, technological, social and environmental trends are changing the nature of our places. The York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s Future Towns works identifies how our towns and places will need to evolve and change to ensure that they remain successful and distinctive places in the 21st century.
A free Future Towns webinar takes place at the LEP’s annual conference on Friday 6 November from 1.45pm to 3pm. To register for the conference, and to find out more, visit our webpage here.