The Guardian have written an article highlighting the decline of Wolverhampton High Street. It sadly reports that Wolverhampton is one of the hardest-hit city centres in the country with a net decline of 13 stores in the first six months of this year.
Wolverhampton is a multi-cultural city with a strong heritage and unique identity. You can walk past a Gurdwara, Mosque and Church all on the same street and see the communities living in harmony. Around Wolverhampton, you have many small pockets of shops that service the surrounding areas.
If you want to shop for more than local supplies people go further afield. People either use Bentley Bridge retail park (In August 2019 more than 69,000 cars visited Bentley Bridge) or they take the Wulfrunian pound out of the city to places like Telford and Merry Hill.
To be blunt the High Street in Wolverhampton is dead. It is no reflection on the community and is falling short of many of the surrounding towns and cities. I believe the fundamental reason for this is that it has no identity. This is not in line with the people of Wolverhampton or the communities that make up this great city. We need to do something, and it needs to be done quickly.
Wolverhampton can benefit from the Stronger Towns Fund to cover three key areas to change the identity of the High Street and bring people back.
- Improve access
- Make it shopper friendly
- Move with the times
Ask the question, is it easy to get into the centre, with a pushchair, young kids, for the elderly? No, it is not. It is not about putting roads through the centre and neither is it about stopping cars in every area. Some people will use buses, other will walk or drive. If someone is driving can they get to the location they want with a young family, or is it easier to drive further with free or easier parking?
Sainsburys is used for the free parking, but the walk with kids becomes hard to get to the Mander Centre. It is confusing to drive into the centre and not easy to navigate around, with widely varying car parking charges.
Free parking on all council owned car parks for three hours on weekends will encourage this as a starting point. Make it easier to navigate into the car parks will go a long way in making a trip into town easier for those that shop this way.
Make it shopper friendly
When a person gets of a bus, or out of a car park it is not straight forward where to go even if you know the area. How will this be for a visitor? The layout of the High Street should flow, with good signposts and help stations that enable people to have a better user experience.
Walking around Wolverhampton High Street can be one of passing derelict buildings, large department stores to independent retailers, it doesn’t connect and isn’t easy to navigate. A lot can be done to help the flow of the city and help shopper know the way around. We basically have to ensure that High Street gets the best chance to maximise footfall.
An idea can be to create areas within the High Street that reflect the communities of Wolverhampton and show off our multi-cultural identity. Different areas or zones that show the great heritage of the city. Such as the Wolves quarter make the experience of going to watch the Wolves not just when they get really close to the ground.
A lot can be done to change the shopper experience, quickly in shaping the identity of the High Street to better reflect Wolverhampton.
Move with the times
The rise of internet shopping is an easy excuse to blame for a failing high street. The is an easy get out and doesn’t address the problem, when surrounding towns and cities are thriving how come we are only surviving?
The Timpson report highlighted some of these concerns and it is important to move with the times. Open up the space to more residential accommodation in the High Street. It provides ownership and Wolverhampton is certainly not short of empty space in the High Street. Plan around residents and shoppers integrating to create a more vibrant and modern town centre.
Co-working spaces are becoming more common and are providing solutions to space that is in line with how many businesses operate. Let’s encourage this and remove any barriers to making this happen.
Wolverhampton is an amazing city with great people. You ask people about Wolverhampton about their heritage, their football team you will see passion. You ask them about the High Street you will their sense of humour.
We can bring the identity of Wolverhampton to the High Street and renew the vibrancy it once had. I want to see it restored to the height of where it was and surpass this for an even brighter future.
Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Wolverhampton South West