My presentation notes to an open meeting focussing on the mixed fortunes of Dunbar’s High Street. The substance of which was that rebranding Dunbar need not be complex or necessarily expensive (a few brown tourist signs rather than lots of competing ones – less is more), that residents must be at the heart of decisions (not powerless recipients of yet another daft initiative on the cheap) and finally that a business improvement initiative could raise everyone’s game (and move on from the medieval guild of trades).
The fortunes of High streets have always waxed and waned, but the most recent decline of high streets seems inexorable and attempts to reverse it labelled by most as “mission impossible”.
But the decline started long before the rise of the internet and comparison shopping, or out of town shopping became a popular passtime, but I am not here to give you a history lesson, except to say that the reasons for the decline are complex and not simple. They are rooted as much in changing attitudes and behaviours – the way we shop, work, play and holiday, as in changes in the economy, and for the that read also changes in technology, in the widest sense.
Maybe there was a time when things were good, but I am inclined to think that this is a figment of our collective imagination, romanticised by TV soaps like Candleford.
So what are residents key issues?
They are multifaceted and contain a lot of constants – resident parking, dog fouling, others’ inconsiderate parking. It depends also where you live exactly, who your neighbours are and to an extent where you are at – life stage. Older folk are most concerned about ASB, and if you live next to a pub or a Co-op, noise will be an issue rather than an annoyance.
What is interesting is that all life stages and economic groups are represented on our high street – from professionals to artists, from young struggling families to empty nesters, from singles to pensioners. They are united by the idea that it should be “a good place to live”.
Over the last year I have spoken to literally hundreds of these individuals. Never before have residents been so passionate about where they live, and concerned about the fortune of their High Street, yet never before have they felt so distant, powerless and unengaged by the powers that be.
So I hope that today is the beginning of a new approach, that sees residents at the heart of decisions taken about our high street – I sincerely hope we are not going to be told by ELC officers that they have dusted down some old plans.
A logical way forward is through a residents group forms to present the voice for high street addresses and the associated backlands.
The Dunbar Conservation Area MUST be at the heart of a fresh initiative to take things forward. It should not be seen as a hindrance, but as our KEY advantage.
Residents can work with the local business association to make things happen, and that this relationship is symbiotic rather than parasitic (cheap labour or unsuspecting punters).
What are Dunbar’s Key Assets? The High Street itself, its closes and the harbour, its beautiful listed buildings, its rich and chequered history.
The people that live here.
Can the residents help to be a catalyst for change that previous endeavours have failed to deliver?
I contend they can.
A vision for Dunbar, and a potential way of taking things forward, using the vehicle of a Business Improvement District is outlined in the attached slides.
The presentation closed asking the audience whether they wanted Dunbar to become a dormitory town or something else?
(credits for all the signage is Crown Copyright, Department for Transport).