Banners to breathe life into ‘sad’ shopping zone

Orchard Street.

Orchard Street. - Credit: Archant

PLANS to revamp Weston’s Orchard Meadows shopping area with new banners, shopfront graphics and even pedestrian-only days have been revealed by the town’s BID team.

The Mercury reported last week how North Somerset Council ‘accepted in principle’ the idea of mixing homes among existing retailers and offices in Orchard Meadows to revive the ‘sad’ area.

Weston BID chairman Paul Batts, who runs Outdoors And Active in Meadow Street, revealed that the group has secured funding to install banners and signs across Orchard Meadows, including a welcome banner over the entrance to the area from Alexandra Parade.

BID will contribute £4,000 toward the initiative, with £4,000 in matched funding coming from the Government’s High Street Innovation Fund.

Mr Batts said: “As a destination town, the place is rammed, and people visit the area to find interesting retailers.

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“They don’t come back from Weston and say they went to Boots or M&S, they say they found a great craft shop or an outdoor store or a games shop.

“This summer we are going to put up some banners, so that people think of it as a specific area.

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“If people milling about in the High Street see ‘welcome to Orchard Meadows’, they are more likely to come and have a look.

“If there are some empty units we are hoping we could get owners’ permission to dress them, similar to what has been done with the old TJ Hughes.”

In future, the area could be pedestrianised at certain times on some days to help make it more enticing, he added.

He said: “In the longer term, we hope to be able to do more things like closing the road and making it pedestrianised for a small time, such as a Saturday, to encourage people to walk around the area.

“It would allow cafés to put tables and chairs outside on the streets.”

Council figures show the area has fewer vacancies than last year – currently 24 per cent, down from 26 per cent of units lying empty in 2011.

However, its figures also show the area has nine per cent higher vacancy rates than five years ago – in 2008, 15 per cent of shops were empty, the same in 2009, rising to 19 per cent in 2010.

But Mr Batts argued that his estimates suggest Meadow Street actually has 50 per cent fewer empty units than 18 months ago and that the area as whole is on the upturn.

Responding to the figures, Mr Batts said: “The trouble is with these figures and things like that is that they can be manipulated to suit.

“In real terms, 18 months ago there were a lot of empty shops towards the top end, but now apart from one or two virtually all of those are full.”

Nigel Cullum, owner of Weston Furniture House in Palmer Street, criticised the idea of mixing shops and homes.

He said: “There are already a large number of residential dwellings in this area.

“We need shoppers to be drawn to the area. We are trying to build something that will encourage people to visit the area like they do in similar places in other town centres throughout the country.”

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