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.
So, start filling in your responses…
Another thought-provoking piece, Rob. As you allude to, there has been a marked shift in thinking – probably driven at national level – away from the old ‘new town’ vision towards something that recognises and (perhaps more importantly) celebrates local distinctiveness. I believe this is the way forward.
Having said that, I also think Wellington, as the historic capital of east Shropshire, does have an important part to play in driving the cultural and economic activity of the wider area forward – the recent influx of local government workers into the town centre shows there is capacity for this to happen. What I believe we really need now is more investment to help the town take advantage of the situation and show that it’s open for new business (in the form of a multi-storey car park, for instance, to leaven the burden on existing places).
Despite the claims of detractors, Wellington is still the largest shopping centre in the area outside the new town, a key educational centre for the borough (particularly at FE level), a prominent transport hub (with perhaps the only genuine town centre railway station in Shropshire) and a major focus for local recreation (including the area’s largest sporting club, AFC Telford United). Add to that the fact that properties in the TF1 postcode are among the most sought after in the entire borough and I really don’t think there is any reason why we shouldn’t be saying that we not only want but also demand a larger slice of the cake!
Several of the borough towns (including Newport and Madeley) are, in addition to the shaping places document, currently drawing up neighbourhood plans to set out a vision for their localities. I wonder whether this might also be a worthy aspiration for our own town council – the largest in Telford and Wrekin – too? With some forward planning, and unified campaigning, I don’t see any reason why Wellington shouldn’t continue to flourish – as a market town and a prominent centre within Telford new town.
Thanks Mr P – I am hopeful that whilst early Telford planning seemed to be about pointing everything towards the new Telford Centre, there is surely now more willingness to put some serious thought into the future of Wellington. One big thing in Wellington’s favour, as you say, is it’s size – with so many shops, offices and services, plus 24,000 people, the borough would be daft to ignore it.
The other thing people in power should realise is that this isn’t about Wellington wanting to suck up resources from other parts of the borough (there are other areas with greater need when it comes to health and low incomes, for instance) – what we’re talking about is genuine investment so that Wellington is able to be an even greater asset to the borough (in terms of shopping and leisure offer, housing etc). In that sense, it should be in everyone’s interests to make Wellington ‘work’ to its full potential.
The ‘Shaping Places’ consultation document does offer opportunities for the community of Wellington to positively contribute ideas to reinvigorate our town as part of the wider Telford plan. The Borough Council document is not an easy read and it is very thin on detail in certain sections (eg: culture), but it is very important that the ‘Wellington Voice’ is heard this time. At the last consultation it seems there were only 5 responses from the TF1 postcode!
In my view the key areas impacting on Wellington include
(Question 1) the overall vision of the Telford project, which seems to be completely based on investing and developing the Telford Shopping Centre. Should the long term vision not include the development of vibrant and healthy market towns within the wider borough?
(Question 17/18) A transport system totally based on the car, which will not be a sustainable approach in the future and ignores the mobility needs of an ageing population. Wellington could be developed as a key public transport hub.
(Question 25/26) A retail hierarchy supporting the overwhelming primacy of the Telford Shopping Centre and considering Wellington as a ‘district centre’, rather than an historic market town – this should assumption should be challenged vigorously!
(Question 30) Should future tourism be solely on the ‘Ironbridge model’ or should a wider approach be taken to develop other parts of the Borough, including the potential of the Wrekin and our market towns?
(Question 31) Culture gets very little coverage in the document and this could be an area of strength in Wellington if there is corporate and community support for such schemes as the ‘Clifton cinema/arts centre project’ and serious consideration is given to the exciting potential for the old library building in Walker Street.
These are a few areas where this crucial document impacts on the long term future of Wellington as a distinctive market town and this is our chance to influence its content and the policy of the Borough Council for the next twenty years – We all have until July 26th to respond.