Mansfield’s long-serving MP has launched a call to arms to revitalise the town centre - with a 50-point blueprint to boost vital trade.
In a report unveiled exclusively by the Chad, Sir Alan Meale voices concerns that recovery will be impossible if immediate action is not taken to revive the centre of town - and especially its market - as the hub of community life.
He has spent three months drawing up the blueprint following research, which has included a survey of local businesses and shoppers.
Sir Alan sets out around 50 recommendations aimed at breathing new life into the Market Place and surrounding area. He calls for urgent measures to tackle the ‘blight’ of empty shops and to provide cheaper or free parking to boost trade.
And he says regeneration must go beyond reviving the high street with improvements to the social, cultural, community and leisure uses of the town centre.
Sir Alan, who has held his seat for Labour since 1987, said: “I’m forever being contacted by businesses about the state of the town centre, because there’s been no progress. People are all saying the same thing, that the town centre is tatty and unkempt. But the question is ‘how do we put it right?’
“We can’t revive the area unless there’s some serious work on it. If in the next three years we do nothing to tackle the town centre, it will be flattened. Everything apart from the listed buildings will go.”
Sir Alan highlights how Mansfield market, which has 475-year history, used to be one of the biggest in Britain and now is limited to a ‘half a dozen stalls’. He says this is in contrast to thriving markets in other towns in the region, such as Worksop, Doncaster and Barnsley.
“Every market in this area is doing a bomb – they’re all thriving. The only one that isn’t is here. We need to make it lively and worth coming to visit. We should have a Christmas Market, an Easter Market, and other themed markets for a start.”
With the help of a researcher, Sir Alan wrote to all town centre businesses and surveyed shoppers daily over a two-week period.
The findings show empty shops are the biggest issue for businesses and shoppers with 95 per cent and 79 per cent highlighting them as one of the most important issues respectively. A total of 71 per cent of businesses and 64 per cent of shoppers feel a declining market is one of the most important issues.
More stalls and a bigger range of goods are felt to be the way forward by members of the public, while over half of those surveyed support the idea of specialist markets.
The price of parking is felt to deter customers from visiting town by 93 per cent of businesses and 63 per cent of shoppers say they are deterred by charges. Sir Alan insists that the picture has ‘nothing to do with the recession’ and is because the town is not attracting enough visitors. He says that although structures are in place to re-energise the town centre, including the Mansfield Business Improvement District (BID) and recently formed Mansfield Town Team, a ‘lack of synergy”’ between BID and Mansfield District Council has stalled progress.
He said: “In the last four years the BID has had the best of £1 million, and I do not know what they have done with it.”
Sir Alan wants to see council services transfer back from the Civic Centre, on the outskirts of town, to the central Old Town Hall building which he describes as a ‘largely run-down and redundant feature’.
The MP has called for an emergency ‘task force’ to be set up involving BID, Nottinghamshire County Council and Mansfield District Council to drive change and apply for funding for regeneration.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? What would you like Mansfield town centre to look like in ten years time?
Email us your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org