UPDATE – August 2019
Independent Harrogate (IH) is not yet a formal group or even an organisation but we are already a ‘voice’ for 110 independent retailers in Harrogate.
IH started when Robert Ogden and I felt compelled to ‘do something’ when increased parking charges became a real threat and we saw this to be a suicidal proposal. We then started to question what is being done by the powers that be to reverse the obvious reduction in attractiveness of Harrogate Town Centre, and we began to question whether anyone has a clear vision for doing so. This in turn led us to look at what Harrogate Borough Council, North Yorkshire County Council and Harrogate BID, which many of you will be funding via the BID levy, are thinking and doing.
We have written to the Chief Executives and Council Leaders of both Harrogate BC and NYCC requesting meetings with them. We hope to be joined by the Chief Executive of the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) who is supporting our efforts to help you as independent retailers. We are waiting to hear from both councils and have met BID (see below).
We have had a positive meeting with Judith Rogerson and Pat Marsh (Lib. Dem prospective MP and Harrogate B C Councillor respectively). They are supportive of our efforts. However, they are at present limited in what they can do in practice to help us.
We have also had a meeting with the new manager and Chairman of Harrogate BID (Elizabeth Murphy and John Fox respectively). We were pleased to hear about Elizabeth’s background and her previous work with Wakefield BID; she had some interesting views and ideas and much of what she said was positive. However, when asked directly if Harrogate BID would support a change in parking policy in Harrogate, involving more free parking, John Fox would not give us an unequivocal answer. We also pointed out that although there are three directors of BID from national retailers on their board there are no independent retailers. Mr. Fox maintained that a café owner on the board represented the interests of independent retailers, but we made clear that we consider this to be within the “food and drink” category. After the meeting we wrote to Elizabeth Murphy asking for an answer about support for more free parking, and also for IH to have input to the appointment of three additional independent retailer directors. Below is a diagram out of BID’s Business Plan from which it is fair to infer that there should be three Independent Retailer directors on their board. We have had no reply to these requests.
I have been approached by a local senior politician who had been talking to a major Harrogate landlord. Both were alarmed by the idea of an increase in parking charges at a time when the town is struggling for footfall and quite the opposite is needed. We hope to meet them in the near future.
Our efforts are giving us increasing concern that there doesn’t seem to be any agreed understanding as to what is Harrogate’s USP nor any clear Vision as to what Harrogate should be to re-gain its sparkle. This was well summed up in an email I received the other day about Harrogate BID, but it applies more widely – “promoting of Harrogate by Bid is done with eagerness; but marketing of what? What is the product?, the brand? What is the vision? And more crucially Where is the vision? Where is the passion?”
It is still early days and we are in the middle of the school holidays, but can I please ask you to do some homework. Harrogate town centre is a latecomer to the woes that many high streets have faced elsewhere for several years. It was because of this that Mary Portas was asked to produce a report on the future of high streets by the government and this resulted in “The Portas Review” in 2011. It runs to over 50 pages, but it is very well worth reading and digesting. There is a download link at –https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-portas-review-the-future-of-our-high-streets
I would encourage you to study the Portas Review and if you are interested you could also read “the Grimsey Review 2 – The Vanishing High Street” which comes at the same issues from a different point of view.
You will see that both Portas and Grimsey make it clear that retailing has changed, shopping is not going back to what it was, changes need making to the business rates and planning systems, town centres need to change and re-invent themselves and most importantly the best way to achieve this is by having what Portas describes as a strong “Town Team” with a clear vision. They also make clear that there is no magic bullet and every town is different and needs its own solutions. We are sorry to say that we can see no Town Team in Harrogate at present. Also, even though the previous high reputation of Harrogate is to a very large extent based on a unique mix of high-quality, specialist independent retailers we are not being invited to take part in sorting things out. We are working hard to change this.
We are trying to navigate through this thicket and persuade others that the voice and experience of Independent Retailers is a vital part of the team needed to sort out our town centre. We to want work co-operatively with others to be a key part of a powerful “Town Team”.
You may also have seen that the issues we are pursuing have stirred quite a bit of interest and support in the local media.
We think the time is coming soon when we need to have a meeting of this group of independent retailers of which you are a part. It would make sense to leave this until the school holidays are over and maybe we can hope for some positive responses to our requests and comments in the meantime. We will let you know more in due course.
Finally a plea – neither Robert nor I are active social media users but IH really does need to have an online presence. If any of you have social media marketing experience, would you be willing to help us? We might even end up with a social media sub-group. Needless to say, this will have to be done free of charge. Many of us are already paying our BID levy.
We hope you have a good summer season. Best wishes
c/o Woods of Harrogate, Prince Albert Row, 65-69 Station Parade, Harrogate, HG1 1ST