I am often asked if councillors care about Hemel Hempstead’s town centre – and if so, what are we doing to support it?
The answer, of course, is yes we do, and to show our commitment we have made improving the town centre one of Dacorum Borough Council’s main priorities.
Many of you will have read in these pages about the plans to replace the current West Herts College and Civic Centre sites with a new state of the art college and a Morrisons supermarket.
Along with the changes to the Old Town High Street we’ve just started, this will bring a major boost to the northern end of Marlowes.
Over the next few months we will continue to develop plans for:
l A new public service quarter which will have a library and council offices, as well as a number of other services under one roof.
l A new bus interchange to replace the current bus station. This area, along with the former market square, will then be redeveloped to provide a town centre leisure destination.
l A major scheme to improve the pedestrianised area between Bridge Street and Primark, including new trees, new paving, seating, lighting, children’s play and a water feature.
On top of this we’re working with a number of partners, including the Friends of the Water Gardens, to develop our bid to the Heritage Lotttery Fund to renovate the historic gardens to their former glory.
This also includes plans for their ongoing upkeep. A decision on our bid is expected next summer.
However, the issue that is affecting many high streets and towns centres across the country is the number of empty shop units.
Despite our hard work and investment, the fact that we do not own any shops on Marlowes makes this more challenging to deal with.
While Hemel Hempstead is faring better than many similar towns, we are still suffering from the problems affecting retailers. With internet shopping being more popular in the UK than in any other major country, the challenges are likely to increase.
However, by working with landlords to attract new retailers to the town and with all our plans to improve the environment and shopping experience in the town, I hope we will see an increase in the number of people visiting Hemel Hempstead.
And that is where we can all do our bit to help.
One of the first questions any prospective business will ask is about footfall.
As a regular shopper I know that the town supplies most of my needs – and it is only by using and supporting our existing retailers that we will bring in new ones.
So next time you are going shopping, think local first. It’s your town and with your support it will flourish again.
Councillor Andrew Williams is leader of Dacorum Borough Council. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org