Saxmundham Neighbourhood Plan

Can we bring new life to the Town Centre?

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018 1:11 pm

Town centres across the country are not only changing, but often are struggling to survive let alone thrive.  Saxmundham is no exception – we have some first rate retail businesses, but it’s ever harder to compete with the mega online sellers who do not have to pay business rates and can use their marketing reach and economies of scale so powerfully.

And while our two large supermarkets draw a lot of people (and their spending power) into the heart of the town, not enough of that ‘footfall’ falls into the High Street or beyond.

One possible issue is the look and feel of the High Street.  Should we think about a one-way system or even pedestrianisation?  Should the pavements be widened?  Should short-term parking on the High Street be allowed (after all, it currently takes place despite not being allowed!)?  Or again, do we need to look again at the planning uses that are generally permitted in the town centre by the District Council’s Local Plan?

But at present, there are at least two major buildings that are not performing their “magnet” role” in drawing people to the centre.  One is the White Hart – it is damaging and a flaw in our planning and tax system that such a potentially important (and ancient) building should be allowed to stand vacant for so long, and its high-viz decaying state has undoubtedly acted as a drag on the street as a whole.. 

The other under-used (and maybe under-appreciated) building is the Market Hall.  Held on trust for the community by the Town Council, the building is now tired-looking and in need of major refurbishment, which is beyond the Council’s own financial capacity.  There is a Heritage Lottery Fund bid being prepared, with a dedicated volunteer team, which has ambitious goals for a “community hub” on the High Street. 

We must also think about the future of Market Place – and some of the same questions of traffic and pedestrianisation apply here too.  But the future of our market is also to be discussed – the Wednesday market is but a shadow of its former self; can better marketing help, or are there new traders and products we could attract?

The business community in Saxmundham has recently decided to re-form itself into a new organisation, and this is welcome.  Its members and concerns are of course not limited to the Town Centre alone, but in working for a more thriving Town Centre for the future, we want to listen to, and work in close partnership with our local businesses.