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Opinion: The city centre needs a bit of fluidity to make it a success

Posted on - 5th December, 2012 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Business, Opinion
Pop up shops: Russ is all in favour of them but a bit less tacky

Pop up shops: Russ is all in favour of them but a bit less tacky

As the council continues with its consultation into what the city centre should be like, we’ve tracked down a number of notable people in the city and asked them to put their thoughts down in words on what should be done with the centre, here’s the first…

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Town centres are nonsense. Two hundred shops all selling the same endless variations on items everybody already has too many of, or never needed in the first place. Shoes, clothes, greeting cards, phones, things made of gold and gemstones, whatever faux-magic paste Boots have bottled up and soap that looks like cake.

There hasn’t been a point in them for some time now. If I want to buy a new t-shirt with this season’s most appropriate go-faster stripes I’ll do it whilst sat huddled against my luke-warm radiator, simultaneously stuffing biscuits into my mouth and shouting answers at The Chase. If I leave my house for any reason other than work, I do it because I want to be entertained. Frankly, until I can walk down the high-street and see exotic creatures stalking around a multi-story urban zoo, or enjoy a casual zip-slide from the top of the Guild Hall to Nandos, the faster everything closes down the better, it’ll make for more melancholy photographs and less people in my way.

Obviously this isn’t the common opinion, and I don’t really think Rhino’s should be kept on the second floor of an old Topshop. I know this because I’ve been in town on a Saturday, and it’s full of people. I’ve been on a wet Thursday afternoon in September, and it’s full of people. Preston town centre, like most I imagine, is always full of people. Despite rumours of economic downturn, much exaggerated it seems, every day sees a plentiful supply of semi-alert shoppers casually casting cash at various shop assistants and scurrying around carrying plastic bags filled with… stuff. Whatever the statisticians may be saying, there is no shortage of spenders on the high-street, either that, or humanity is so devoid of imagination that, even though they’ve run out of money, they still can’t think of any other way to use their free time than gormlessly parading past shop windows, fingering merchandise, and pretending to buy multi-syllable’d coffee. I know not everybody can be Felix Baumgartner, but I have more faith in us than that.

Yet, there are a fair few of empty shops…

Over the last decade in Preston we’ve seen a lot of ideas pass by; big, small, and ridiculous. From spending an uncountable amount of money on flattening the bus station and putting a John Lewis complimented by a few plants in its place, to filling every empty lot with a pound shop, or most recently a ludicrous suggestion to invest the equivalent value of an Aircraft carrier in a Tram line which exactly duplicates a number of existing bus-routes and will reduce the high street to a disaster zone for three years. I don’t know if anyone involved has either a) visited Edinburgh at any point in the last three years, or b) watched The Simpsons ‘Monorail’ episode. Actually I do, they haven’t, either that, or they live outside Preston and spend most of their evenings cackling over a brandy while stroking a cat and thinking of those ‘poor suffering fools’.

Obviously I don’t have the definitive and financially planned answer, I’m just a pleb who eats too many pasties, but I do think the answers might be a lot simpler than a Grand Plan style re-boot of any kind. I’m a huge fan of the ad-hoc turning over of empty units to Charity shops, Seasonal Discount stores, and, on at least one fantastic occasion, a Local Art Gallery. I just think the whole things needs to allow that little bit more imagination in. I’ve nothing against a pound shop, a charity shop, or  a discount calendar outlet, but we already have plenty of those around. I figure if you’re going to start offering attractive short term rates, or temporary free lets, or however the powers-that-be are working it, then it shouldn’t just be about filling a space, it should be about putting something new, or at least different, into the town centre. Craft, food, drink, experience, gallery, theatre, entertainment, whatever it may be, just something new. If an enterprise fails, it fails; next please and move on! If it succeeds; Hello new addition to town, goodbye empty unit, welcome happier shoppers! I don’t know, I’m sure there a lot of outdated red-tape in the way, but it’s the 21st Century, a bit of fluidity, and excitement, seems like a simple step forward to me.

Essentially, for me, less bulldozers, more trials. Less phone shops, more fun stuff. Rhinos optional.

About Russ: Mid-30s on and off Preston resident for two decades. Previously a night-club, live music and comedy promoter, working for most venues in town at some point or other, including 53 Degrees and several outdoor events. Now working nine to five for a living and writing nonsense for a hobby. 

What do you think? Do you agree with Russ? What can be done about the city centre? Let us know in the comments below

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