Saturday, 19 June 2010
Regeneration meets reality?
Lochee High Street in Dundee was previously a busy suburban shopping centre. Over the years, however, the thoroughfare became less popular, shops struggled - two large superstores just off the High Street didn't help - and a particular bone of contention was the small Highgate shopping centre, a daytime haunt for drug addicts. At night the area became a magnet for anti-social behaviour, and the several pubs in the street weren't really of the wine bar genre.
The street was popular with the elderly and less mobile, however, and although there was pressure on parking space it was a lot easier to get close to the shops than hiking into the city centre, with less convenient parking there. However, the council stuck in some particularly vicious speed bumps, and other measures for pedestrians - such as those sticky-out bits and pedestrian crossings - provided a further deterrent to car drivers.
One of the supermarkets - which serviced the discount market - closed down and the other followed suit more recently. The latter was replaced by a new Tesco Extra over a mile away, hence further detracting from the area. The Woolworths store - the mainstay of many such shopping areas - went with the rest of the chain.
Hence the High Street managed to attract £2 million of funds as part of the Scottish Government's Town Centre Regeneration Fund and, after months of disruption to businesses and the predictable late finish, the road has finally been opened to traffic again and the main part of the work is almost complete.
So what are the prospects? As a driver as well as pedestrian - I walk several miles several times a week for shopping - one striking aspect of the new layout is the lack of parking space, primarily due to the trees now along much of the street, as evident in the early-morning photo above. The street is now one-way traffic only as a consequence. Also, it's now one of those areas where the demarcation between the road and the pavement has largely disappeared, thus no one knows where they're supposed to be and who has right of way, thus encouraging pedestrians to walk out in front of cars. And, as someone has pointed out in the local press, a child running out from behind the planters could be hidden from a driver's view. Thus the lack of convenient parking space - although there's ample a few minutes walk away - and the new layout is bound to deter those with mobility problems and others in a hurry who rely on cars. Of course, shifting the emphasis in favour of pedestrians is clearly the intention, but will this merely drive motorists to the retail parks or city centre?
And, predictably, the revamped street has attracted bad publicity before it's even finished. Some of the planters have been 'tagged' by graffiti 'artists' and are being used as litter bins. The Evening Telegraph last night reported the view of residents, who aren't entirely surprised by this. Even local councillor Tom Ferguson - who often seems admirably disposed to stating the facts rather than the more usual spin - says he could "see it coming".
Indeed, near my humble abode we've in the past had the months of noise and disruption with a view to prettifying the area with fancy pavements and small trees (not long after much of the greenery had been ripped out because it was causing a litter problem (sic)), only to soon have this blighted with fag ends and smokers standing around on the pavement courtesy of the smoking ban, which is likely to feature in Lochee High Street as well.
So there's more to regeneration than throwing money at things, but the Tele's story last night is neatly juxtaposed with a predictably upbeat and politically charged letter from SNP councillor Alan Ross, who attributes the changes to the SNP administration, and talks of past neglect. Er, but wasn't it the Tories who levered the regeneration fund monies out of the SNP at Holyrood? And wasn't it SNP council leader Ken Guild who accused Gordon Brown of trying to bankrupt Britain and SNP first minister Alex Salmond who last week accused Labour of wrecking the public finances?
Thus it's the usual political trick of taking the credit for spending the money and blaming others when the bills come in, but the SNP seems predicated on little else. Nothing new there then.
As for the future of Lochee High Street, it may well be that the time is up for shopping areas of this type, and no amount of money will reverse the trend towards retail parks and the chain stores and smaller niche stores in the likes of the city centre's Overgate shopping mall.
Indeed, the old Tesco store just off the High Street was part of a large retail/leisure complex built around a generation ago. As well as the supermarket there was a filling station, bingo hall, cinema, bowling alley, nightclub, pub, eateries etc. Within a couple of years these businesses started closing and now only a couple remain, and the park is effectively a huge, largely empty car park with several modern but sad-looking buildings.
I wonder what odds the betting shops on Lochee High Street would give on it ending up as a similar waste of money.