Don’t just sit and moan: Have your say on future of the Six Towns

The Wyg report says the city council is right to focus on Hanley as the retail centre of the city, but suggests Burslem and Fenton are downgraded.

The Wyg report says the city council is right to focus on Hanley as the retail centre of the city, but suggests Burslem and Fenton are downgraded.

It was easy to spot the killer line in the report which attempts to create a retail blueprint for Stoke-on-Trent over the next 15 years.

The reclassification – a softer term than the perhaps more honest ‘downgrading’ – of Burslem and Fenton would see them viewed as district centres, along with Meir, rather than town centres.

I can’t help it but I instinctively balk at the suggestion that the Mother Town of the Potteries along with Fenton, which successive administrations at the local authority have overlooked, should no longer be considered towns.

It may annoy planning officers and those tasked with attracting inward investment to the Potteries but, for me, Stoke-on-Trent IS the Six Towns.

The fact that we have the Six Towns, each with their own heritage and distinct identity, is one of the city’s many unique features.

After all, Arnold Bennett didn’t write a novel entitled: ‘Anna of the four towns and two or three district centres’.

The problem is, of course, that over the last 20 years or so some of the towns have benefitted from investment, time and resource and others have not. Burslem, a town I know well, has never really recovered from the closure of the Royal Doulton factory in Nile Street.

It is no longer somewhere that people go to do their shopping – like my mum did every Saturday when I was growing up in the Seventies and Eighties.

It has no supermarket, no indoor market, no big chain stores. Instead it relies on craft-type shops and a night-time/weekend economy.

However, there are at least grounds for optimism in the Mother Town thanks to the advent of the Burslem Regeneration Partnership, the proposed Haywood Academy and the planned work of the Prince’s Regeneration Trust on the Wedgwood Institute – (facilitated, I should point out, by the city council). Boslem also, of course, has a League One football club.

There is, as far as I can tell, no such optimism surrounding the future of Fenton which seems to have been branded little more than a residential zone.

I suppose the devil is in the detail of this study. The sobering statistic is that 22.8 per cent of retail space in the city is empty – a figure which is twice the national average.

In simple terms, then, there isn’t the capacity to sustain all those vacant units and so we need to rethink our retail strategy and that will, inevitably, impact on other planning matters.

As I understand it, the report by Manchester-based consultants Wyg suggests that Burslem, Fenton and Meir be considered ‘local centres’ in retail and planning terms.

This is because towns such as Longton and Tunstall are seen as having a more sustainable retail base.

Meanwhile, Stoke (minus the Civic Centre) will hopefully benefit hugely from the relocation of Staffordshire University’s Stafford campus and all those students needing accommodation and shops.

But what are the consequences of a ’reclassification’ for Burslem, Fenton and Meir? Will it, for example, mean that businesses wanting to set up shop in Burslem will instead be encouraged to opt for Tunstall where the retail base is viewed as more viable?

Will chain stores looking at Fenton simply be steered towards Longton? It is vital that this is explained properly to people living in these areas.

And what exactly is the plan for Fenton over the next decade beyond it being a place where people live?

It doesn’t have Burslem’s magnificent architecture but it does have a beautiful Town Hall and square which should surely be the focal point for investment and the community.

We should remember that this report focuses purely on the city’s retail needs and, as one commentator posted on Facebook: ‘There’s more to life than shopping’.

However, Wyg’s study will feed directly into the city council’s Local Plan so its findings are significant and we should all take note and make our views known.

I believe the council is right to prioritise Hanley as a strong city centre. It is, to my mind, key to the regeneration of Stoke-on-Trent as a whole. (Note to planners: It should never be referred to as Stoke city centre because Stoke is, of course, a town).

Hanley is, after all, where the bulk of our shops are. It is also the home of three terrific live entertainment venues as well as the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.

Hanley will be fine. We just need developer Realis to get their skates on and deliver what they promised in terms of an, albeit smaller, City Sentral shopping centre as soon as possible.

I can even live with the daft name if they show a little willing now by bulldozing the eyesore East/West precinct.

Likewise, I think there are also plans for Stoke, Longton and Tunstall which will ensure their viability in the medium-term.

What I would like to see now is two things. Firstly, a pledge that the local authority will put some energy and resource into the regeneration of Fenton and Burslem so that the former, in particular, does not continue to be the ‘forgotten town’.

Secondly, I‘d like as many local people as possible to be involved in a big conversation about the future of our city.

Write to The Sentinel, comment on our website, contact your ward councillor and attend meetings in your locality or at the Civic Centre.

Just please don’t sit there and moan because this is too important for people to fall back on the old chestnut that the ‘council is rubbish and no-one ever listens’.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

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We’re the best around. Now let’s finish this… #pvfc

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So we are still blessed. The Sneyd Green Pontiff didn’t leave Boslem during the transfer window for fifty quid and a dozen oatcakes.
How about that? ‘Vale hang on to key players shock’.
As Norman Smurthwaite asked back in November: ‘Port Vale isn’t in a distressed state so why would we sell our best assets?’
It didn’t stop the rumour mill, of course, but we are lucky that Tom Pope himself is hell-bent on being the man to fire his home-town club to promotion.
The fact that he remains a Vale player until the end of the season at least is absolutely massive.
Yes, I’d feel better if he was contracted until the end of next season – as the Chairman indicated some time ago – but I guess we have to trust that this will come to pass.
I understand why contract talks are on hold for the rest of the squad – as whether or not we are in League One will obviously have a bearing on things.
My only hope is that the likes of Myrie-Williams, Vincent, Dodds, Williamson, Burge and Loft are all still playing alongside Tom Pope at Vale Park come August.
As it is, smart business during January has seen the new owners give Micky Adams the backing to build a squad which is very capable of seeing us over the line.
Since the televised game away at Wimbledon, where Popey’s superb equaliser salvaged a point for us, results have gone for Vale.
We now have a really good cushion between us and the teams in fourth spot and below as well as games in hand over some of them.
Two eminently-winnable home games in quick succession give us the chance to put even more daylight between us and the chasing pack.
I’ll be honest – I’m not fussed if we finish first or third so long as we go straight up and I suspect most Vale fans aren’t either.
So long as we avoid the lottery of the play-offs I’ll be happy. Winning the title would simply be the icing on the cake.
The manager is understandably playing down expectations and taking each game as it comes.
But he will know that every three points ratchets up that expectation because it takes us one step closer to the promotion dream.
I believe in Micky Adams and this squad. We shouldn’t be afraid of any team in this league. We can beat anyone.
Now let’s go and finish this.

Hard to not get carried away as Vale juggernaut rumbles on

It’s hard not to get carried away right now. It really is. I just can’t help it.

As much as I try to keep things in perspective, Vale’s performances on the pitch of late have me dreaming of promotion parties and trips to Wembley.

It’s been so good, so riveting and so surprising that I’ve managed to put the fact that we are still in administration to the back of my mind.

We’ve been starved of success or even decent football and worn down by off-the-field woes for so long that the team’s heroics are simply the perfect antidote.

That a side stitched together on a relative shoestring budget against a backdrop of turmoil can be sitting second in the league and with 23 points already on the board in the middle of October is truly remarkable and genuinely inspiring.

That we have dumped not one but two League One teams out of the Paint Pot Trophy is testament to the new-found confidence in the dressing room.

I dare say a Vale side going two-nil down away from home last season or the year before would have gone on to lose three or four nil.

Not this lot. They don’t seem to know when they’re beaten.

Even when Sir Micky of Boslem rests half the team our fringe players come in and play a blinder.

There are so many positives that it’s hard to know where to start.

The win away at promotion hopefuls Exeter showed the rest of the division that there’s a new sheriff in town and it ain’t Jamie Cureton.

That the top striker in England is a lad from Sneyd Green who grew up supporting the Vale is just the icing on the cake.

I couldn’t be more pleased for Tom Pope who has worked his socks off and looks leaner and sharper than any striker Vale have had for years.

The clanger at home to Dagenham aside, in Chris Neal we have a top drawer ’keeper who underlined his ability with a terrific one-handed save which protected our two-goal lead and prevented an anxious climax to Saturday’s game.

Then there’s teenage goalie Sam Johnson – drafted in to fill Neal’s rather big boots on Tuesday night.

His debut away at Walsall was Boy’s Own stuff, it really was.

To save three penalties then have the bottle to step up and score the winner is a hell of thing to have on your CV at 19.

But my final praise this week must be reserved for Vale’s astounding away following – by far the best in the division – which is a much-underrated 12th man.

Thanks in no small part to them, the juggernaut rolls on.

Read my Port Vale columns every Friday during the season in The Sentinel