Thursday, 14 December 2017

How to improve town - with a climbing wall

BETTER parking and more facilities for young people have been included in a “vision” for Henley.

BETTER parking and more facilities for young people have been included in a “vision” for Henley.

The ideas emerged during a brainstorming session held at the annual meeting of the Henley Partnership at Henley Golf Club on Tuesday.

They will be discussed at a meeting between the partnership, Henley Town Council and South Oxfordshire District Council next week.

About 30 members of the partnership attended the meeting to discuss ways to improve Henley.

Laurence Morris, who owns Laurence Menswear in Duke Street, said: “We need to attract people into Henley but that’s not going to be achieved when the rates are too high and shops are closed.

“The vision is to have a game plan whereby we can attract independent shops which bring people into Henley.”

Gillian Nahum, who owns Boatique in Hart Street, recommended a “park and glide” service using river taxis that had been suggested by the Henley in Transition group.

“Our river is what brings people to Henley and it’s not difficult to achieve,” she said.

“What a great way to arrive that would be. You park your car, get on a boat and go into town. You’ve got easy parking and a boat trip.”

Ms Nahum also suggested adding more cycle routes.

Mike Trethewey, chairman of Henley Rugby Club, said there was a car park at Dry Leas that was only one-third full most of the time and the station car park was also under-used.

“The real issue is people are lazy,” he said. “I would have a fast buggy service from those two car parks straight into town because we’re not going to build any more car parking in the centre.

“We’ve got to get people parked outside town and get them quickly into town — that’s where the energy should be.”

Business advisor Peter Robinson, who led the brainstorming session, suggested having digital signs indicating how many car parking spaces were available.

Cora Corrigan, who works in health insurance, said that if businesses wanted to capitalise on tourism then visitors should be pandered to.

“It’s all right to have the desire for them to come but if they don’t feel welcome they won’t,” she said.

Richard Cuthbertson, who chairs the partnership’s creative working group, said: “If Henley had a reputation for being lively, energetic, forward-thinking and progressive that would deliver pride.”

He said town centre manager Peter McConnell had been a “great addition” but the town council was slow to make changes.

Town councillor Sam Evans said the needs of residents should be prioritised. “Without a vibrant group of residents we’re not going to get the taxes to pay for these sports clubs and facilities,” she said.

Guy Outram, a director of the partnership, said some residents didn’t want more tourists. “It’s not how we attract more people, it’s about what we do internally that will encourage more people to come here without us even trying,” he said.

He said the town centre should be peaceful and pedestrians should not be frightened by the traffic.

Cafés and bars could collectively create an atmosphere that encouraged people to go into the town centre because it felt good. Business rates for traders should be lowered.

“It means changing completely,” said Mr Outram.

Julie Perigo, who chairs the partnership, said: “I would like to see a town where residents and businesses take pride in the town and personal responsibility for solving the issues.

“I would like stability and collaboration. Also, a town which acknowledges and supports the variety of businesses and other organisations which add to the economy and lifestyle because I think we get hung up on retail and tourism when 70 per cent of the employers are in different sectors.”

Mr Robinson said it was important to bring on board the three “anchor” shops, Laura Ashley, W H Smith and Waitrose.

Keith Douglas, who chairs the partnership’s charities working group, said there should be more places for young people to gather in the town.

Ms Corrigan responded: “I was inspired when I came into the market place and it looked alive and fantastic with the students around.”

She suggested having a rock climbing wall in Falaise Square. “I don’t see anything for them to do of a healthy nature,” she said. “Where are you going to meet your friends? It’s just the pub.

“It’s such a wonderful town and has a reputation for being a sporting arena with its history. I would expect something more sporty for the young kids in town.”

Ms Perigo called the ideas “sensible” and added: “If we can agree an inspiring vision it will make it easier to prioritise projects and funding.”

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