I recently had the opportunity to speak in Parliament on the topic of the future of town centres...
Town centres are important features of any community and in Rugby we are currently faced with a significant decision concerning the future of ours. Taking the right decisions today will impact on the kind of town centre that we will have in the future.
I believe our town centre has a strong and viable future, partly as a consequence of the new housing developments that are coming forward within the Borough, some underway already, and others due to start in the near future. These bring new customers for both existing and new retailers and the key to my support for these housing developments has always been based on transport infrastructure being in place from the very beginning of construction work taking place. This will ensure that new areas of housing are well connected to our retail provision and particularly our town centre.
However town centres across the country are facing competition from out of town retail and internet purchases, currently making up 13% of all retail. A question for us here in Rugby is whether our town centre will benefit from the part-pedestrianisation proposals that have been brought forward for comment.
The Clock Tower should be the focal point of our town centre and the area around it can certainly be improved by the removal of railings and general clutter. There is a strong case for full pedestrianisation but I am advised that the funds available do not permit this option. However, the current proposals exclude private cars, whilst retaining buses and taxis. This appears to me as inconsistent. I believe that vehicles passing through our town centre help to keep it visible and bring trade into it. Given that the proposals will allow both buses and taxis to continue to journey through our town centre I do not see the logic in preventing cars from doing the same. If all vehicle types remain, I would support a heavily reduced speed limit for traffic within this area supported by traffic calming. This should allow for the environmental improvements which will make the area attractive to our many visitors and in particular those we expect to arrive during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Given the opportunity to showcase our town at that time, it is important that the works are completed well before September 2015.
In conclusion I believe that it is important that our town centre receives the significant investment involved to demonstrate our confidence in the future of Rugby’s town centre. However I would like to see revisions to the scheme which will retain the proposals to create a more attractive environment, while retaining full traffic movement.
This will of course be a matter for decision by local councillors rather than Parliament but I am keen to express my view based on listening to my constituents, those both in favour and against the current proposals My conclusions are based on those discussions and representations, and on my familiarity with the town as someone who has lived and worked here for 45 years.
I know that many agencies are working hard to support and promote our town and in my role as Member of Parliament, I will do all I can to assist them in their endeavours.