SIR – The Lymington Town Quay planning team has finally revealed its emperor’s new clothes. In essence, now a debate over a shower block with either a gabled roof or one with a flat viewing area.
With stakeholders consisting of three councils, Lymington Harbour Commission, local businesses and residents it was safe to assume architectural boundaries were never going to be reimagined.
The prettiest part of Lymington and one that commands the most ‘dwell time’ by visitors and locals will see new facilities for visiting yachties allowing the town to keep pace with competitors, a bit of pavement ‘rejigging’, possibly a few more places to sit and a little oddly a ‘periscope art installation’.
A chance missed or a sensible decision?
Well, the fact the quay will very likely be allowed to reinvent itself on selected weekends as an event space – licences permitting – is a good thing. And, given the town’s ongoing parking conundrum, saving 20 odd spaces kept the status quo.
In reality, those additional spaces make almost no difference at all.
The public meeting drew a smattering of interesting debate. Some felt rightly disappointed the whole area wasn’t turned into to a stunning coastal piazza with retail units given over to aid start-up businesses, a pop-up fish market to support our few trawlermen or a roof terrace café and car-free spaces for families to enjoy.
Such fun and liberal views were, as expected, dourly countered by a Lymingtonian truculence with moans around “increasing my council taxes”.
The debate we should actually be having, is how are our three councils going to support our high streets and the retailers who are currently fighting for their lives?
Online shopping now accounts for around 20% of total consumer spend. Up from 9% in 2013. With Black Friday’s and Cyber Mondays, along with busier lives made easier by online convenience the retail landscape has changed forever.
High street footfall is dwindling and on average over 10% of shops stand empty across the UK. Between March 2016-2019 106,000 jobs have been lost in the retail sector and we’ve seen a long list of household names go bust. The two remaining weapons in a retailers’ arsenal are ‘experience’ and ‘customer service’ but in many cases ‘price’ will always win.
Take a stroll down Lymington High Street and you’ll be overwhelmed with charity shops. Dotted with empty units it’s seen the likes of Steamer Trading and Carphone Warehouse recently pack their bags. Whilst not retail Goliath’s, the basic pattern is once major chains close their doors the independents will follow.
The government’s move to slash small business rates further, saving some £12,500pa from 1st April should be applauded, but that’s still small beer compared to the uneven playing field online operators enjoy; many of whom cleverly avoid their fair share of tax.
So how do we help our high streets thrive, create jobs and act as springboards for ambitious start-ups who’ll become future employers?
First, by transforming town centre spaces into places for people to enjoy you’ll create a stronger sense of community, a place of social enjoyment and importantly create footfall. Town centre spaces should also be as much for locals as visitors.
Second, through larger scale and mixed-use events it provides opportunities to promote the town as a great destination to wider audiences. Combine that with a smooth transport infrastructure and you’ll generate repeat visitors who are likely to spread their positive experiences to others.
As Lighthouse Marketing, organisers of the annual Lymington Seafood Festival, our event attracts around 12,000 each year. Hotels and B&B’s are fully booked. If half of those are visitors spending on average £50, that’s £600,000 of additional revenue into the town across two days. Something we need more of.
The other major missing is one of storytelling.
Lymington’s heritage has seen the town build ships for kings, be home to thriving salt production and oyster fishing industries. A town of smuggling, tunnels and fables.
Today it boasts world-class marine businesses, medal winning sailors and award-winning food producers. Let’s be proud and showcase our story.
We’re lucky to have an energetic, forward-thinking local town council and a Harbour Commission prepared to shoulder some serious investment in local projects, but they alone can only do so much. Wider marketing of the New Forest is happening through the team at Go New Forest.
However, they need something compelling to beckon the potential tourist pound.
From a personal perspective we can change our retail habits and shopping local to support independent businesses. But it needs a similar desire from both New Forest and Hampshire councils to put business and locals first, ensuring more affordable housing for young professionals who will support and grow within the community.
A more dynamic strategy is needed to prevent our town centres declining. You can’t collect rates or rent from an empty shop and council parking machines will bear less fruit.
Unless that is, the vision behind the proposed quay periscope art installation is designed to see into the future rather than glimpse at Berthon’s owner washing his smalls in the bath next door.
Richard Nowell, Lighthouse Marketing, Lymington