Response to Planning - Crewe Town Centre
Updated: Mar 20, 2021
The Panglossian dream is not a reality, it was based on outdated retail reports from years ago and the retail or leisure-led development is not going to add anything to for our town centre's environment or the community. It is ill-conceived and has had no community engagement to establish what the community needs or requires. It would appear that the decision is already made and this call for consultation is no more than illusory participation, and therefore quite frankly meaningless.
I have spoken to the agents of the developers of the project, on and off for the last 5 years and they have confirmed on numerous occasions that there are no tenants for the scheme and if I spoke to them post-pandemic I sure they would confirm that non actually exist, so why would we grant planning for an uncertain future and an undeliverable scheme?
The only two tenants that have ever been in the running, are the cinema and a bowling alley both are conditional arrangements dependant on the whole scheme being built, and we already have these uses in other parts of the town, and the bowling alley disappeared due to lack of interest. The uses are hardly exciting vibrant or ground-breaking and quite frankly are not representative of what the community or town wants. You cannot grant planning for a car park and a bus station without knowing how the rest of the project is likely to progress, that would be madness, surely planning needs to be achieved around a scheme that may actually get built and has the full support of the local community. The community is already disillusioned and disenfranchised in Crewe, Cheshire East may hope for more chain stores to compete with nearby towns, but there is compelling evidence that we need less, and more independent shops where the shop owners are cool, authentic, and embedded in the local community.
In my opinion, the bus station and the car park are being built in the wrong location and are only a desperate measure to get any redevelopment in the town going, irrespective of the outputs. This is not sustainable and does not meet the three pillars of sustainability. It is lazy and nepotistic and indicative of leadership that has no attachment to the location.
Crewe is a gritty northern town, a little grittier than most in leafy Cheshire, but it seems home to an abandoned community that holds so much potential. An optimist would wish that Cheshire East could gently guide it on the right path and engage with its multicultural population. Cheshire East’s solution to the problem of vacant shops is a simplistic one; knock them down. The town has a rich historic railway provenance, which could be championed, instead, the leadership created a manufactured brand that falls outside the town’s established heritage and quantifies success with crude economic inputs, and fails to recognise the importance of social and environmental achievements.
The proposed scheme that forms the centrepiece of Cheshire East’s plans harks back to a different era and is unlikely to be delivered. There are simply no tenants for this investment model, and we can draw a comparison from nearby Northwich. There was an opportunity to create a legacy in Crewe, but the workable urban fabric is now demolished and has now been turned to rubble.
The proposed scheme is not a democratic space and it won’t provide a tactile experience, but simply a vision of a homogenising trend of the only developer that wanted to get involved. Cheshire East have overthought a process when the communities’ guiding hand would have sufficed, keeping the iconic fabric intact and building on the very community that was going to use it in accordance with their diverse needs. Crewe’s community is multicultural, and the leadership needs to reflect on this with clear evidence of a holistic paradigm shift in a town centre’s purpose. It is no longer just a place to shop, shopping now only forms part of our everyday activities. It should seek a wider offering, one that stimulates different cultural needs, and this won’t be achieved by following a myopic blueprint that deals only with real estate. The town needed some encouragement from within, to explore the social and environmental benefits, but instead, the leadership opted for a top-down approach which would be a homogenised carbon copy of the questionable scheme in Northwich.
The market for the type of scheme proposed had long faded prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, and over the following 12 months, the economy has changed dramatically, further compounding emerging trends. Cheshire East Council has not adjusted their views but continued down a path that might mean it is too late to attract any meaningful projects that will enhance the benefits for the community, socially and environmentally.
I would therefore respectfully suggest the whole project is put on hold; you can’t grant planning consent for a car park in this location nor grant outline consent for a scheme that forms part of a larger plan that has no hope of ever being built. We may find ourselves with a car park in the wrong location surrounded by vacant space for a number of years while the economy recovers. During this time, there will be environmental pressure for more active travel and hopefully, the car park will become an irrelevance and we will concentrate on the local economy and social capital to bring forward a vibrant town centre. Has Cheshire East learned nothing from past mistakes?
The proposed space is not democratic and has not been produced as a result of collaborative leadership, but a homogenised imitation of every scheme that was built prior to the 2008 financial crisis, with the Town’s board conforming only to illusory participation. The leadership so far has failed to contemplate the democratic vision required and thus will create urban monotony, instead of achieving dialectical utopianism.
Chris McGarrigle BSc. (Hons), PGDip, MA, MRICS IRRV Hons MCIArb MIPM