This was Helensburgh yesterday afternoon.
I suppose you get from a place what you seek. In over all terms I love the town where I was born and brought up. I still live there and have done for all but fourteen years of my life. I have had great friends, family and people around me. People whom it has been a privilege to know.
Although not quite so strong now, Helensburgh had an absolutely ingrained community spirit and I always found, a charitable and benevolent attitude to less fortunate members of society.
However it does and always has had a dark underbelly where parochial snobbery thrives. When I was growing up it manifested itself in the church. From a very young age I was wary of those who were keen to outwardly display their devotion to God. Ridiculous as it may seem now, even as recently as thirty five years ago on a Sunday morning, there would be a bizarre fashion parade on the streets of the town.
Families would walk to church and the faither would be in best suit or kilt and clutching a bible (to his chest!). There would be a palpable smugness in their collective gait and smiling faces. As a member of the Boys Brigade, I got a close up view of the hierarchical choreography which operated within the church. The more money you had, the more respect you had – and expected.
As the prestige of dressing up as an extra from Brigadoon on a Sunday declined in the 80s, other badges of status thrived in the advent of the four wheel drive car, what restaurants you frequented and what clubs or societies you were a member of.
In recent years this has bizarrely manifested itself in what shops one buys the Persil and the toilet rolls.
The letters page of the Helensburgh Advertiser can often be funnier than reading Private Eye. The fact that the town’s biggest supermarket for many years has been the Co-op is a source of shame for many and they write in to the paper about it. Whist I notice that the store is a bit pricey, on the occasions I use it, it seems more than adequate for a small/medium sized town.
A couple of years ago, Waitrose were given permission to build a store on the outskirts of town. This has been viewed by some as akin to the return of the Messiah. This 21st century nativity happened last month on the site of a former council dump not far from Craigendoran station.
As well as permitting this out of town hub, the local cooncilors (nary a wise man amongst them) have also dedicated £6 million to
completely ruin the town centre as a viable retail venue regenerate the town by way of paving works and traffic management. That however could lead me on to another lengthy article as it is over time, over budget and the place currently looks like Beirut circa 1985.
All of which brings me to this BBC article. Rarely can I have read such a simultaneously depressing and hilarious piece, which references the Helensburgh store opening. The title of my post is in there and sums the whole thing up.
I honestly hope that Mrs Rab will see that they simply charge more for everything and that the premium isn’t worth it just to be seen in the place.
Meanwhile in other parts of the town, I’m sure that outfits have already been chosen for Sunday’s family expedition there.
However there were lots of sailing boats out on the river.
(As with all photos on the BLFP, click to enlarge)
This shot shows two of the small craft not far from the upturned Greek cargo ship CAPTAYANNIS which capsized during a storm in January 1974 and has remained there ever since.
I can remember clearly watching the CAPTAYANNIS capsize from the vantage point of my English class at Hermitage Academy.
I wrote about it here
This is Colquhoun Square Helensburgh
The square dates from the beginnings of Helensburgh in the late 18th century. The town was probably the first ‘planned town’ in that the streets were laid out in a grid. Colquhoun Square provides a civic centre, if not quite a geographical one, to this grid. It is a few hundred yards from the railway station. There are some impressive old buildings on and near the square including the post office, a Bank of Scotland and the beautiful St Andrews Kirk.
I rarely pass through the square without my spirits being lifted. I have lived a good portion of my life in the town, I was Christened in St Andrews Kirk and have great affection for the open space. As you can see, the square has four large grassed areas with flowerbeds, there is an almost perfect balance between pedestrian and road traffic with ample pavements and street furniture complimenting the nice wide roads, which allow a free flow of the lifeblood of any town i.e. vehicular transport.
The square is the kind of feature that would impress any visitor.
Enter Argyll and Bute Council.
As part of a £6.5 million ‘improvement’ to the town, here is what Colquhoun Square will look like soon:
After more than 200 years of free flowing traffic, road users other than pedestrians will no longer be able to go from north to south or vice versa. The east west route to will be traffic calmed. The grass areas will be reduced and the flowerbeds removed.
Although not quite as bad as the original plans, this plan will be a disaster for Helensburgh on several levels. Originally when the town was built, Colquhoun Square was to mark the East-West ‘split’ of the town. However when the main route north became Sinclair Street, Colquhoun Street and Square came to be situated in the west of the town.
Shops and businesses west of Colquhoun Square therefore are in a secondary area. Businesses there are already struggling in the current financial climate. So what does the cooncil do? Cut off their life blood that’s what. That and ruin a grid system which is the envy of many towns across the country.
It never ceases to amaze me that councillors seemingly fail to check the havoc wreaked in small/medium towns all over the country by token pedestrianisation.
The cooncil will no doubt point out that this proposal has been the subject of endless consultation and a referendum.
Like many such consultations and referendums in the past, there was no option just to leave the square as it is, which is I suspect how most locals would like to see it remain.
The town is dying on its arse like town centres everywhere. The frustrating thing is that if there is £6.5 million to be spent it could be done in such a way to help the situation.
Not actually to make matters worse.
I’m a member of the local “Freegle” site where folk offer and ask for goods that are no longer wanted. It was good to find a home for our old, but prefectly usable, three piece suite through the site.
The system works where an email is sent with an offer or wanted heading and then when the goods are taken or received then an email will be sent with those headings.
Thus you’ll get an email like this:
It is not known if the recipient had a free ticket for the Dumbarton Football Stadium on Saturday.
It is a fact of modern life.
Town centres in the UK are struggling and dying. At the same time out of town retail, even in a recession is booming.
Commercial premises in town centres nationwide are lying empty whilst brown and green field sites are being snapped up for the erection of huge single story barns.
David Cameron’s solution to all of this was to appoint the “Queen of Shops” Mary Portas to come up with a plan to revive town centres.
If ever there were an initiative to sum up the term “token gesture” then this is it.
Until and unless the relentless spread of sheds like some viral knotweed is addressed properly via the planning system, then attempts to address the ghost towns are doomed to failure.
The Guardian have not been alone in recent months in highlighting the fact that supermarket companies currently have plans to build 44.4 million square feet of new retail space in the next few years.
To put that in some sort of perspective, that is more than 7 million square feet MORE than Tesco’s entire current estate.
In Helensburgh where I live, there were recently two competing planning applications from rival supermarkets. One was for a site in the town centre near the pier on the seafront and the other was for an undeveloped site out of town.
The Waitrose plan for an out of town site, despite planning officers previously advising rejection under the Scottish government’s planning guidelines which recommend a sequential approach to these matters, were later accepted.
Many local residents were in high dudgeon about the competing Sainsbury’s plan for the the seafront. The fact that it is, and has been for 30 years, a potholed car park on reclaimed land has never attracted much comment.
From the point of view of retaining footfall in the town centre the pier site would surely have been preferable?
In fact a reasonable case could be argued that a town with a population of fewer than 18,000 and which already has two supermarkets perhaps doesn’t need another one at all.
As it is, the new Waitrose Store from projected figures will attract a spend of something in the region of £15 million per year.
Think of the jobs!
Ah yes the jobs. That is the carrot dangled in front of local authorities to allow such developments to go ahead.
Talking in round figures there are around 700 people employed in Helensburgh Town Centre which has a retail spend in the region of £32 million.
To employ someone, even at minimum wage with employment costs added, it costs £20,000 per year. Assuming that businesses work on an average profit margin of roughly one third then this means that £60,000 is required through the till to employ one person.
If Waitrose take even half of their projected turnover from existing town centre business (£7.5 million) then the conclusion has to be that job losses in the centre will be in the region of 120.
How many will Waitrose employ? As many as 120 full time (or equivalent in part time) jobs? I think not.
Evidence shows that using conventional accelerator calculations, for every £10 spent in an independent shop, £25 is generated for the local economy compared to £14 spent in multiples.
Any serious attempt to regenerate town centres lies with the planning and taxation systems
A moratorium or much stricter guidelines on out of town centres would be a start.
Poppins’s Portas’s prescription smacks of putting bandages on gaping wounds and lipstick on corpses.