The consultation has opened for the Greyfriars & Wharf Place development options, allowing the people of Grantham to have their say about the important town centre developments that will define our town for years to come.
Now, I have made my feelings clear on these developments for a long time now, and to be honest these development options have been discussed for over 4 years now with very little progress.
I believe there is a reason for very little progress on these sites.
When developers look at the options that the council will consider for these sites, they need to know that they will derive value from their investment. This means they have to see a reasonable return on their outlay based upon what the options available are.
In their current form, SKDC’s plans aim to significantly increase the amount of retail floor space in the town centre area, and change the night-time offer to include more leisure facilities such as a multiple screen cinema and restaurants in the Greyfriars area. On the face of it, the proposal looks ambitious but there are major flaws that will impact on the chances of attracting investment.
Since these plans were drawn up, the UK has suffered the worst financial crash since the great depression. The country is still suffering the hangover from this as the economy struggles to grow. The high street economy is in a state of flux. Traditional retail trends have significantly changed, with the growth of online shopping and the power of the supermarkets.
Due to these macro economic factors, it would be foolish to pursue a course where Grantham aims to significantly increase the amount of retail floor space in the short-term. Developers will not be attracted to investment that will not offer good opportunities to secure financially secure tenants and/or a cash rich footfall ready to spend their hard-earned money.
It is my opinion that SKDC should adopt an employment and skills programme that will prioritise employment space over retail space, will incentivise companies to invest when offering apprenticeship programmed to upskill the Grantham workforce.
To this end, I propose that the Greyfriars development is altered to attract investment from developments of quality, high tech specification offices. These developments should take advantage of the technological infrastructure that is in place in Grantham.
These developments then should be marketed to attract small, medium or large-sized businesses to offer employment for up to 500 white-collar workers in this space. This will create a vibrant Market Place sector, where people are moving to and from their place of work, therefore attracting more investment into small retail units and the George Shopping Centre in that area. to take advantage of the new footfall.
With this, and other developments, additional incentives could be offered to new and existing businesses investing in Grantham that offer apprenticeship programmes, as well as programmes of training for the long-term unemployed. This will ensure that the current and future members of Grantham’s workforce will have the appropriate skills to succeed and create a prosperous future.
For the record, I agree that the Wharf Place development is a great idea for a town centre development, and I suggest that most of any retail floorspace increase for the town should be concentrated in this development. This development provides continuity to the existing shopping centre and provides an iconic facade for the High Street.
I do, however, feel that the council will struggle to secure investment for this development in the current climate. Therefore, the council should focus priorities on creating employment space in the town centre and further out-of-town, including the much discussed distribution hub penciled in for Spitalgate Level.
Also, I would like the council to set a target for the amount of new jobs they can create in Grantham by 2015. By setting this target, it will help focus minds, drive actions to create jobs, upskill the existing workforce and attract new workers from outside the town to come and settle in Grantham.
It is now time for SKDC to take a pragmatic approach to the development of the town. Grantham should be the destination of choice for businesses to invest, a destination of choice for people to work, live and play, and it is up to the council to deliver on this vision.