Shaping Places: A chance for Telford the teenager to do some growing up
The infant town of Telford is growing up. As for all teenagers, it might take time to find its niche, and we’ll no doubt continue to see painful moments self-doubt (should my economy be growing faster than this?), punctuated by flashes of showing-off (look who’s got three cinemas AND a Nando’s!). The Southwater development is part of that growing up process, creating a more vibrant and attractive centre at the heart of somewhere which – in spite of its arterial roads – has never felt much like the heart of anything; an ‘out of town’ rather than a town.
It’s something which clearly needs doing – Telford Centre has to be the main economic powerhouse for the area and we must make it fit for the job. But what does the future hold for the old towns – the likes of Wellington, Newport, Madeley and the rest?
The council’s new Shaping Places consultation is our chance to help forge a new answer to that question.
And that’s why we should all have a crack at responding. As is often the case with these things, it’s not the easiest of documents to wade through, but the Local Plan which it ultimately generates in 2015 will frame all development in the borough up to 2030 – so its worthy of our attention.
When Telford Centre became THE Town Centre, Wellington was reclassified as a ‘district centre’ alongside some much smaller local settlements. It was only words, but signified a diminishing of expectations for the future of this largest of local market and manufacturing towns. The loss of status was inevitable – Telford’s creation was always going to mean a recalibrating of the local economic landscape, with bigger stores and some services migrating from Wellington to Telford Centre. The crime, however, was that successive council chiefs, development heads and QUANGOs had such little vision for Wellington and did so little to counter-balance the impact of the process they were managing. In effect, they shrugged their shoulders as Wellington lost its way, instead of helping the town to redefine its role and strengthen its sense of identity in a way that would have put it in a much stronger position today.
Those views have been changing in recent years, but not fast enough. Through creation of this new Local Plan, we have an opportunity to make a case for what Wellington can and should be, and thus for the type of development we should permit and encourage, and that we should not. What should mark out the town’s centre from its hinterland? What should housing densities be? Should we encourage new office and retail space, or consolidate what we have? Whatever the details, the 2015 Local Plan must move beyond past mistakes and see the genuine potential in places like Wellington; it must overcome lazy assumptions that economic growth = Telford Centre, that heritage = Ironbridge and that Newport is the only market town worthy of the name.
Wellington is never going to be the borough’s main commercial centre or tourist honey pot. But those of us who have thought deeply and critically about this – who know the town, its strengths as well as its weaknesses, have a vision for what Wellington can be. If this Local Plan gets it wrong, Wellington won’t disappear, but it may find itself limping into the future as a faceless suburb of Telford, eventually clustered around an assortment of banks, estate agents and take-aways but little else. If this plan gets it right, it will not be a golden ticket to the town’s future success, but it will allow us to face that future with the right tools at our disposal, reframing expectations so that Wellington’s revival – rather than a pleasant surprise – will be just what Telford & Wrekin had been aspiring to.