Following on from last week’s meeting to ‘reclaim’ Midsomer Norton’s High Street, those that attended have reported a staggering amount of enthusiasm and organisers are hoping that the momentum will just keep on growing.
There was barely even any standing room at the Town Hall last Thursday evening, with over 100 residents, business owners and the High Street landlords attending. Whilst there were the inevitable gripes, generally the meeting was very positive, issues were discussed and suggestions put forward.
There was a brief outline of the problems that the town faces in attracting national retailers, with the landlord of the now empty Reflections site explaining how hard he had tried to attract a long list of big names, without success, and entirely down to a lack of footfall.
He said that regrettably, the site would become another charity shop, but that it would benefit from a substantial refit and that the investment should be welcomed, rather than left as an empty, unused space costing thousands in lost rental income.
Issues such as parking, lack of toilet facilities, transport and infrastructure were big topics on the night, a debate on the river (of course!) and the need for the town to have an identity. Tourism also featured, including finding ways of bringing more people to visit.
Private landlords were discussed, with four present at the meeting. Whilst the Wetherspoon’s development has been held up due to access issues over private land, some called for landlords to look after their properties better and to carry out repairs to help encourage civic pride.
Other ideas included a logo to identify local shops, a Midsomer Norton pound and a new website for the town, with the domain name of www.msnhighstreet.co.uk having been purchased. Traders also discussed the merits of extending their opening hours, either later in the evening or on Sundays.
Some called for more to be done to engage the young people of the town with the community in which they live, with more events or meeting places provided
for them, or run by them.
Christmas was also on the agenda, with calls for a better event – but a plea for more organisers to help if such an event were to be run.
There was also a long discussion about markets and their merits, tied up with Midsomer Norton finding its identity as a market town. Traders voiced their concerns on competing stalls and asked for priority on any stalls that could potentially line the streets along the river, expanding out of the Hollies Gardens.
Finally, there was an appeal for everyone in the room to stay involved or to commit to volunteering their time to help regenerate the town. Progress has been rapid ever since, with a ‘Town Team’ being formed with people joining from retail, PR, landlords, and representatives to help with the public realm, night life, youth engagement, markets, transport and parking, tourism, community groups and events. Each
section will look at challenges and solutions separately so that everyone brings their skills to the table.
“It was really fantastic to see the whole town coming together to discuss the issues facing the High Street, focusing on positive solutions,” said Paul Myers, Mayor of Midsomer Norton. “There’s no single answer and it’s not down to one body to solve it – it needs a team solution.
“Whilst we’ve had these sorts of discussions about the future of the town before, it’s clear that what’s different this time is the fact numerous people have come forward to actually pick up and run with the ideas.
“There was a real sense that everyone is keen to actually get going with the plan, rather than just have endless discussions. Every aspect looks set to be covered, from improving promotion to provision of public toilets – now we just need to get on with implementing the ideas.
“In the meantime, I appeal again for local residents to back our traders in the High Street as we work together towards a long-term solution and a bright future for our town centre,” he added.