I recently walked up to the NatWest Bank in Sittingbourne from East Street something I normally get the wife to do and was shocked to see how bad the High Street is now looking. There are boarded up, shuttered, closed down, for sale shops everywhere instead we have small Asian and Eastern European Corner shops popping up, who’s displays are from exciting. There were very few people about and the amount of different languages spoken made me wonder what country I was in?
Surely the time has come to have a total relook at the High Street. We have to accept that the High Street of the 1950- 1980’s no longer exists. This used to be the place where you got most of your shopping. Now with many large supermarkets in the area selling not just groceries but clothes etc. and with other major retailers using the big Retail Parks, the High Street is no longer fit for purpose.
I was a councillor back in the 1990’s when the present High Street was designed and the main suggestion was that it became a pedestrian precinct, this caused outrage among traders who said people sometimes want to stop for just a moment to buy a paper etc. If you look at what shops and businesses that are in the High Street this is no longer a justified argument so why not do away with the road through the middle of the High Street and have the whole area Pedestrianized like Canterbury. In Canterbury vehicles are not prohibited but because of the inconvenience of driving through the town they avoid it. Yet Trade vehicles, Taxis etc. can still have access, those of you who have visited Canterbury know this works. There is plenty of parking facilities around Sittingbourne Town centre so that will not cause a problem. Some years ago I suggested roofing with glass the whole of the Town Centre and having a Tram travelling from Snipeshill to Chalkwell road, the idea being you jumped on of, this would have made the town a tourist attraction. Now maybe it could travel to ASDA and back passing all the Supermarkets and Retail parks. Obviously this idea was ridiculed and said to be to expensive.
It no good just altering the High Street, we need to look at its function. I would suggest changing the empty shops etc. into expensive flats and living accommodation to encourage executive style people to live in the town centre, then I would want to see more Café, Bistros and Restaurants and not just another load of Indian and Chinese, we have enough of them, want we want is English, Greek, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish etc. a wide variation of quality venues, we certainly do not want any more take ways. The High Street could become a centre for artisan shops, Cheese shop, Antique shops, Bakeries, Music Shops, vintage record shops etc. etc.
These are just ideas but something must be done to make a different to what it is now before one bedroom flats star appearing and the Centre becomes a place for the unemployed and displaced