The Dewsbury Strategic Development Framework 2018 (Snappy title, eh? let's call it the SDF), was approved by Kirklees Council as their vision for Dewsbury until 2025 in January this year.
This is probably the most important plan actually approved in Cabinet for the regeneration of Dewsbury for several decades.
Yet apart from a brief flurry of interest in the papers about the half million or so pounds of expenditure in the first year there has been almost no interest shown in what the council plans to do in Dewsbury.
Despite this lack of interest in the publicly available strategy, the constant stream of complaints about the state of the town continues on Facebook and elsewhere.
As my mother used to say:'If you have nothing useful to say then best to keep your trap shut'. So it's always best to know what you are talking about.
Having said all that and having read all the published material I'm going to stick my head in the lion's mouth - so here's my personal take on the SDF 2018.
What you need to know about the Strategic Development Framework?
There are also a couple of national reports that you need to read to understand how Dewsbury's experience fits into the overall picture:
Both of these reports give useful insights on how today's high streets and town centres might be rejuvenated as well as who is in a position to actually do it.
And both of them make it clear that tomorrows high street is going to be very different from the 'bustling retail shopping centre' that many people still hanker for.
Why will our town centre be different?
The most significant reason for this is the dramatic growth of online retail which has enabled us all to shop from the comfort of our homes.
That's great for us - but a killer blow for many high street shops that rely on 'footfall' (fancy name for the number of people walking by). And if we buy from home then our feet don't fall anywhere near our town centre.
So the reduced state of the high street is essentially down to us, the great British public. There's no point blaming the shopkeepers, the council or the government. We made this happen.
..and the killer?
..we made it happen and only we can put it right.
Lively, attractive places come about due to the actions of the local community and local businesses - who have agreed on what sort of place they want their town to be.
So let's take a look at SDF 2018 to see how the council thinks this will come about.
A Quick Summary of the Dewsbury Strategic Development Framework 2018
The need for sticking '2018' into the title is because today's plan is basically an updated version of an SDF that was developed in 2010 but never saw the light of day because of the political changes that took place that year.
However, the 2010 plan was based on a considerable amount of research as well as consultations with the community. All of this has proved a useful foundation for the current policy once the changes that have taken place since then have been taken into account.
Naturally, the most significant change in Dewsbury, the same as everywhere else in the country is the growth of online retail thereby damaging the profitability particularly of the major high street stores selling the more expensive products.
The Key Points of the SDF
There will be:
There must also be:
3 Main Aims
There are 3 main aims:
- Increasing activity
- Making the town centre more attractive
- Improving accessibility
1. Increasing Activity
The plan lists 5 objectives and then 8 key projects by which those objectives will be achieved.
Of the 5 objectives listed, 4 of them are about property and will affect activity only 5-10 years down the line after improvements have been made. The 5th is development of the creative/cultural sector.
Of the 8 Key Projects identified, 6 of them are about property. The remaining 2 are for business support and Events and leisure.
It is fairly clear that while the council can work to improve buildings and property which might make the town more attractive in the future the council is not in a position to directly influence activity in the town in the near future when we want it most. This is inevitably down to the local community.
2. Making The Town More Attractive
There are 4 objectives but really it comes down to:
- good housekeeping and ensuring that the place looks clean and tidy and:
- the 'people' issue that the town should feel safe and welcoming.
The 4 key projects identified include well known ones such as the Townscape Heritage Initiative and the Station Gateway, both of which are already almost complete. The two 'people' issues are:
- reducing the incidence and perception of anti-social behaviour and
- marketing/improving perceptions
While these last two are identified as projects there is no description of what the council will actually do to achieve these things. They are also the hardest problems to deal with.
3. Improved Accessibility
There are 4 objectives, two of which are about improvements relating to the ring road. Unfortunately, we are still suffering from the dreadful mistakes made with the ring road 40 years ago and having to spend time and money reducing the impact.
The other 2 are about improving pedestrian and cycling provision and the perennial issue of car parking.
There are then 5 key projects listed one of which is the Station Gateway which is already on the point of completion. All of them look like general improvements that one would expect to see taking place anyway.
It's fair to say there is really nothing here that is going to excite anyone.
Having a plan is great news. So the SDF is wholeheartedly welcomed.
It gives us all a starting point from which to make things better.
We also need to look at the SDF in the context of the bigger picture laid out by The High Street Report and their recommendations for a Future High Street Fund and a national Task Force; a path the government is clearly following having allocated £675 million pounds to The High Street Fund in the last budget and a further £1.2 billion to town centre regeneration in March this year.
And here it is fairly clear that there is work to be done if we want to gain access to this funding. We as a town, and that means council, businesses and community all together, need to meet the requirements that they are looking for.
A key point of The High Street Report is the call for:
.empowering local people, organisations, businesses and institutions to be active contributors and partners.
And a key point of Kirklees Strategic Development Framework says:
The local community will need to play an active role in helping turn the town around.'
However, there is little reference throughout the SDF on how the council plans to work with the community to achieve this.
What Do We Need To Do Now?
We need to ensure that we have all the elements in place to enable us both to work effectively together and also to be an attractive destination for investment money - whether from government funding or other investors.
To meet the requirements of the Future High Street Fund we need to strengthen our local community organisations, both for business and for the wider community , develop effective partnership working with the council and with each other - as well as a shared vision of the future.
We need to start thinking:
- about what we want our town to look like in the future and;
- how we can contribute to making it happen.
The business community
Members of the Chamber of Trade have already recognised the need for action and are working hard to recruit new members and beginning new cooperation with the council.
The wider community
There are more than 200 community groups in Dewsbury. The Dewsbury Partnership is going to play its part in helping to bring people together with the same aim - to make it easier to communicate and to create a bigger voice for the people of Dewsbury.
You can help!
For you to tell us effectively what you want we need to know who you are.
Sign up to our email list here. Then we can keep you informed - and ask for your opinion when the time is right.