Th biggest challenge our town centres face in the next four years is a targeted strategy to tackle vacant shops on the high street

7 April 2021

 

Every four years at election time the Island Conservative candidates propose a new, radical masterplan. Do you remember the regeneration for East Cowes? Plans to develop Ryde Gateway? And now they have their sites on another set of proposals for another town, with a ‘masterplan’ for Newport. You can set your clock by these big vision Conservative announcements, followed by years of half-hearted action and the running down of our neighbourhoods.

 

Except their proposals for Newport are not even ambitious – they are declaring the obvious. Of course we should build homes for islanders on vacant brownfield sites.  Of course we should make full use of our historic buildings such as the Guildhall. But the biggest challenge our town centres face in the next four years is a targeted strategy to tackle vacant shops on the high street, particularly large, central sites.  Whilst Greens encourage residents to live above shops and in our town centres, we also value the essential social and economic roles which our town centres fulfil for the whole island to be able to meet, browse, enjoy and take an active part in island life. Why have the Conservatives shied away from the difficult issues? Are they not up to the challenge?

 

We need to support our existing high street businesses, shops and eateries through a bold and exciting offer for shoppers, tourists and residents, and the Green Party candidates have the imagination and determination to bring forward this vision. Newport is in a perfect position to offer indoor market space for retro clothing, small designers and upcycling. We can have pop-up shops on high streets across the island which will offer island food, drink and gifts especially during the summer months.

 

There is growing interest in repair shops and recycling centres where we can reuse the resources we have as part of a circular economy in action. We can use vacant centres for adult learning and reskilling opportunities, and family centres to bring people together. Glaringly, Newport needs a central Post Office not just a County Hall! We could use vacant premises for an accessibility hub for people with visual, hearing and mobility impairments or a youth centre to meet the needs of our young people. We could offer a seeds exchange, a music tuition centre, a community cinema.

 

Newport needs to develop its infrastructure. We need a larger, more modern building for our health centre and more dental services - not a focus on County Hall and councillors yet again!

 

Yes, we have housing needs for Islanders but these have to be tackled with affordability in mind, not through selling to the highest bidder and pricing islanders out of the market. And most importantly we need a strategy for the public realm. This set of Conservative proposals are no ambitious 'masterplan' for the biggest challenges we face after the covid-crisis, which is how to ensure that any strategy has the needs of residents at the heart of any plan, not just the housing market.