LETTER: Tinkering with Chesterfield’s town centre problem solves nothing long-term, big changes are needed

Chesterfield Town Centre shoppers
Chesterfield Town Centre shoppers

Alan Lee (Derbyshire Times letters page, February 19) makes a case for change in the town centre, but for me, he doesn’t go far enough. Tinkering with the problem solves nothing long term; truly imaginative thinking is required.

We find ourselves in a different world than the one that town planners predicted – retail is no longer the engine for growth.

According to Chris Griggs, CEO of Land Properties, an estimated 25% of current retail space is already obsolete (think Co-op building, Victoria Centre).

Adding capacity (Riverside, Northern Gateway, court building) and the effect of other shopping areas (Ravenside, Whitt Moor) and nearby super-malls (Meadowhall) does nothing to improve the situation.

Surely, the biggest impact to the town centre has been our changing shopping and banking habits? Online shopping, currently 11% of UK sales (or £100 billion a year), is set to more than double to 25% of volume by 2020. Fast forward ten years and that’s bad news for booksellers, electrical goods suppliers, clothing retailers, estate agents, travel agents and bank branches.

The best way to regenerate the town centre would be to re-brand it as a place to live, not as a place to visit. Re-populate the town centre and it will thrive.

Chesterfield needs a new town plan that eliminates swathes of obsolete retail space (keeping the faux Victorian facades if you must), replacing it with many hundreds of roomy, high quality one, two and three bed apartments with shops or garages on the ground floors in the style of successful continental cities.

Encourage private developers by giving away some of the derelict spots. Concentrate shopping around the Market Place, Pavements and Vicar Lane instead of trying to spread it around an unsustainably large physical area, as it is now.

Create an entertainment street where the declining hordes of noisy weekend boozers (myself included) can unwind under watchful CCTV and away from the new residential areas.

Who are we trying to attract? There are thousands of people trying to escape life in the cities of Sheffield and Nottingham, not to mention the asset rich, cash poor elderly, trapped in outlying villages and housing estates.

I am talking about boldness here – masses of housing instead of the Co-op, the do-nut car park, Saltergate car park, the Victoria Centre, Cavendish Street, Lordsmill Street, Low Pavement, the court building, land between the coach station and the new PFD buildings and while we are at it, turn the Town Hall into flats - it is obsolete as office space.

Add in the mother of all FREE car parks on the unlikely to be developed Riverside site (paid for by new council tax payers) - and this town might just have a chance.

And please, don’t trot out the statistics (no-one believes them anyway) that we have less empty shops than other towns, I am not concerned with other towns, I want Chesterfield to thrive… it’s my town.

By Dave Walsh, sent in via email.