EMPTY shops and too much traffic congestion are impacting Stratford’s prosperity.
That was the verdict of an audit on the health of the town centre, which included asking people their opinions, conducted by People and Places Insight during two visits in 2021.
The Stratford Strategic Partnership, made up of councillors and officers across the three tiers of local authorities in Stratford, along with major town organisations in the public and private sectors, felt the report backed up its main ideas on how to improve the town.
The report showed many people felt the number of empty units in the town centre was too high, and more needed to be done to fill them. Others felt the variety of shopping in the town could be improved.
And many people when asked by People and Place Insight cited the need to pedestrianise parts of the town centre in Stratford to attract more people.
Parking was also cited as a problem, with more than 70 per cent claiming it should be improved.
But on the days of the audit, some 40 per cent of the town’s spaces were actually empty – higher than average percentage of vacant spaces in towns in the UK.
Geraldine Collinge, director of creative placemaking and public programmes at the Royal Shakespeare Company and chair of the Strategic Partnership, said: “The audit produced some quite interesting results which will help inform the partnership’s discussions and recommendations, especially around things like pedestrianisation, parking and revitalising the town centre.
“The plans to alter Bridge Street and High Street currently out for consultation, while not a full pedestrianisation, prioritise those on foot and on bikes compared to vehicles as Bridge Street’s roadway will be narrowed and pavements widened, and High Street will be closed to traffic between 11am and 4pm.
“We are also in talks with the main landlords in Stratford town centre on the best strategy for filling vacant units and making the town as attractive as possible or new businesses to come in.
“And we are also working with the Transport Group on an overall strategy to improve public transport into and out of Stratford, reducing the need for people to drive in and park and therefore reducing the demand for parking spaces.
“Audits like this allow us to assess where we are and what needs to be done to improve. Stratford is in a good place already – the report said more than 80 per cent would recommend visiting – but there is much more to do to help make it even better.
She added the partnership would continue to have discussions on the best ways to improve Stratford for residents, businesses and visitors.
Coun Matt Jennings, tourism and projects spokesman at Stratford District Council, said: “Evidence based data is essential when regions want to put forward a business case to central government for national grants to enhance the district’s infrastructure.
“This is especially true with future Government Levelling Up bids. During Covid, Stratford District Council was successful in obtaining funding from the Government’s Welcome Back Fund, to undertake a comprehensive district-wide survey of the eight main settlements. This included assessing the performance of the towns, commercial offering, vacancy rates, footfall and car parking and recommendations for improvements.
“This ‘forward thinking’ and innovative use of resources has put the district council in the best possible position to be able to secure future funding to enhance the whole district.”