Our town centre must thrive but it can be hard to balance the needs of commerce, events and residents

I was in Port Sunlight on the Wirral a couple of weeks ago. On its nearest high street in New Ferry, one in two shops were shuttered up. I have also been to Eccles and several other centres in a similar state of collapse. Those experiences have brought home to me how lucky we are to have a thriving town centre in Ludlow. But sometimes the needs of residents are hard to reconcile with town centre life.

Back in 2015, one resident attacked the scale of the May Fair. Before that, there were suggestions that the event should be moved to a field. There is no doubt that the fair is disruptive for town centre residents.[1] But Ludlow without the May Fair would be like Ludlow without a market. It’s inconceivable. No other event in Ludlow creates such a sense of expectation and excitement within our community. And the May Fair is loved by people who never go to the festivals. Many of them think that there is not much in Ludlow for them. Long may the May Fair continue.

The Ludlow10 run looks likely to become a fixture of our calendar, like the Storm the Castle event last weekend. Again, these events disrupt life for residents but a lot less than the two food festivals and the Medieval Christmas Fayre. I don’t get complaints about those. Ludlow10 has learnt from last year’s event. It will reverse its route this year and put in place traffic management to ensure the town centre south of the market keeps moving. I think this event is great. I will be there, though my participation will be no more than clapping my hands.

There is always a potential conflict between pubs and the civilised character of our town centre. The Blue Boar on Mill Street used to be an appalling dive. It was major centre of antisocial behaviour. Under Adam Tutt’s management, it has become one of Ludlow’s must go to destinations.

We have had recent problems with The Wheatsheaf too. It had the wrong management and was run like a city centre pub. It is potentially a quality venue in a prime location sitting amid some of Ludlow’s finest heritage.

The owners, Marstons have agreed to manage the pub differently. They have offered a voluntary restriction limiting live music to six days a year.[2] There is now an acceptable design for signs and lights on the exterior.[3] Shropshire Council’s conservation team have inspected internal works and are satisfied that they don’t damage the historic fabric.[4] The council is currently consulting on a pavement licence that will limit outdoor activity.[5]

The Wheatsheaf is now heading in the right direction. But the managers will have to work hard to build trust with nearby residents again.

We can’t ban pubs from the town centre. Neither should we. Like the fairs and festivals, they are part of the social and commercial fabric of our town.

It is always going to be difficult to balance competing interests in the town centre. But we should celebrate that we don’t live in Eccles, Bebington and so many other failed town centres.

Notes

[1]. The May Fair is managed by Ludlow Town Council. It puts a lot of effort into ensuring that it runs well. From time to time Shropshire Council and fire officers have asked for minor changes to ensure safety and access for residents. There has been some antisocial behaviour. Every other event in our town has stewards. Maybe it’s time for stewards at the May Fair.

[2]. The Live Music Act means that live music is no longer regulated entertainment if it finishes by 11pm and the audience is less than 500 people.  However, Shropshire Council can request a review of a premises license and ask its licensing committee to disapply the Live Music Act. Evidence would have to be presented at the committee’s review hearing that there has been a public nuisance.

[3]. Not everyone agrees with me on this. There are objections to the proposed lighting and the hanging sign. But small scale lighting is not subject to planning consent, despite being shown in the recent updated planning application. Lighting that is a small addition to a building is not usually a planning matter (it’s technically “de-minimis). Arguments can be made against lighting on heritage grounds but conservation officers are unlikely to object in this case. If light spills into neighbouring properties, that can be enforced by Shropshire Council’s public protection team. I will discuss with Marstons the technical specification of the lights and times of their operation.

[4]. The conservation officer visited at my request on Monday. The internal works are: new timber bar top; removal of stand-alone carvery servery area; redecoration and recarpeting; and new lighting utilising existing cable runs. The officer says: “Overall, I am satisfied that these works have not had any detrimental impact on the existing fabric of the building.”

[5]. The proposed pavement licence is a great improvement on the current arrangements. The tables outside the Wheatsheaf are on the highway but have been in place under custom and practice. We started to tighten up on this a couple of years ago after a small amount of abuse at other venues in the town. All external tables and seating that are on the highway must now have a pavement licence. Currently there is no restriction on the hours that the tables can be used. The new licence is proposed to say: “The area will not be used between the hours of 10pm and 9am Sunday to Thursday and 11pm and 9am Friday and Saturday. Bar tables will be removed during the evening.” That means restricted hours and benches only outside the evening. This will give the council a clear platform for enforcing any breaches.

2 thoughts on “Our town centre must thrive but it can be hard to balance the needs of commerce, events and residents

  1. As a householder in both Port sunlight & Ludlow I took particular interest in your post referring to Bebington high street by way of warning about what Ludlow could become. I do not recognise a Bebington where every other shop is shuttered up . I wonder if you were in fact referring to New Ferry where in 2017 a criminal explosion was caused & buildings fell both at the time & have been demolished since. It caused serious injury & caused a significant number of businesses to close . Residents of Port Sunlight were also displaced & the homes are currently being renovated . There are a large number of shut up shops in New Ferry which struggled before , but this catastrophic event has exacerbated the struggle. There is no government assistance for the regeneration needed & a lot of fund raising going on.
    As a Port Sunlight resident & volunteer for Port Sunlight village trust I am hugely proud of our environment & visitors who I meet are bowled over by what they see , & not in a bad way. You do not mention what you thought of Port Sunlight however.
    Comparisons between Bebington High Street & Ludlow are not ideal in any event given the excellent transport links that Bebington has via Merseyrail & the bus network to a number of shopping idylls such as Chester city centre ,Liverpool one & Cheshire oaks. From Bebington , Liverpool is £3.65 return by rail , no railcard required.
    We love Ludlow & Port Sunlight equally but they are not comparable.

  2. The difference between the various festivals and Ludlow 10’and Storm the castle is that as an elderly resident I can easily take part in the festivals but can only look on at the two athletic events. Perhaps I should apply to take part in Ludlow 10. I hope arrangements can be made for me to compete as I have just had a hip replacement and will not be able to keep up with the rest of the runners. Which makes the point, I can visit the Festiival at my own pace and not hold up any others.

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