This month we are launching our 'The Heart of Swindon' campaign. Throughout 2019 we will be waxing lyrical about everything the town centre has to offer and asking the difficult questions that need to be answered.
We all know that Swindon is a great place to live, work and thrive. There's just so much to praise from its parks, heritage and its economic stability. It not only flourishes with its low house prices and high employment but also by being perfectly located with incomparable transport links.
But if you talk to anyone the one area that people feel let down by is the town centre. With the town growing at a rate of knots the centre is very much in danger of becoming the hole at the centre of the doughnut with residents opting for out of town shopping or going further afield to nearby towns and cities that have done it right like Newbury, Reading, Oxford, Cheltenham and Bristol.
Over the past couple of decades, the centre has been under siege from national economic factors, stalled regeneration schemes, social problems and high car park rates.
But there has been some good news of late, with certain developments coming to fruition and some superlative work by InSwindon and The Brunel Centre. The Crossing, the new food court at The Brunel and Regent Circus at the top of town are both relatively new ventures for the centre that are transforming the negatives into positives. There are also some amazing independent businesses that add to the variety.
But the centre needs help. There are now more than 30 boarded up businesses and other very 'low rent' stores that do nothing to add to the appeal.
The idea of this campaign is to embrace all that is good about the centre at the same time as asking the questions to work out what the viable way forward is. Its future might not rely solely in retail as times change. Leisure, culture and sport might also hold the key. We don't have the answers ourselves but we are hoping to open up the debate.
It's no wonder that a lot of Swindonians are cynical of regeneration plans as we've not only seen the New Swindon Company's proposals come to nothing but its successor Forward Swindon has now been taken back into council hands. Regent Circus shows that plans can work but we need the council to be more transparent about all the other proposals so we can help support them. What are they?
It is ridiculous that you can park for free at the out of town shopping areas like Greenbridge and The Orbital and only a £1 for five hours at The Outlet Village, whilst it costs £8.50 for five hours in the centre. This needs to be addressed. Increased congestion also highlights the need for park and rides with proper hop-on hop-off transport links joining up The Snowasis, Old Town, The Station, and The Outlet Village to the town centre. A tram, if we were being really ambitious, would be the perfect solution.
Heritage and Culture
Wandering around the centre you would be forgiven for thinking that the town was lacking in anything resembling heritage and culture, something that gives other towns and cities their individuality. In Swindon, it is almost invisible. That should not be the case especially when we have a thriving cultural scene of art, music, dance and theatre and more heritage than you can shake a really old stick at.
The council recently extended a scheme that bans anything it doesn't want from the centre without really policing it, from begging to cycling to drinking. These blanket bans are not solving any of the social problems, just moving them elsewhere. The ban on cycling and skateboarding also does nothing to help the matter especially when we are trying to cut down on congestion.
In essence, over the next 12 months, we will be focussing on the centre to find out what we can all do to help it thrive. We will be welcoming ideas from every quarter so please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org