Kirsty Chadd was one of the keynote speakers at the recent launch of the revised ESG Masterplan held at The Courtyard and the large audience gave her the loudest applause of the day for her analysis of the city’s retail problems and the importance of the ESG plans for revitalising Hereford as a major shopping and business destination. We believe Kirsty has summed up the issues facing Hereford so concisely that we have published her speech in full.
‘Some of you may wonder why I, of all people, am standing here talking about the ESG, when only 4 weeks ago I closed the doors on my own department store.You may actually believe that the threat of the ESG was a factor in persuading my family to close Chadds. But I can tell you with absolute honesty that this was not the case. The damage had already been done. It was the Hereford of today that did it for us, not the Hereford of the future. Hereford has long sincebeen forgotten. When other nearby cities and towns stepped up to the next level, Hereford city centre stagnated. Customers chose to shop elsewhere for reasons too numerous to mention, but to generalise, other cities gave them a better shopping experience. Chadds battled hard, but there was only so much we could do. We couldn’t change the car parks, we couldn’t change the signposting we couldn’t move the people on from outside McDonalds and we couldn’t change the planning laws! In our business we have been constantly trying to attract new high st names to come to Hereford. Some came, but many others turned us down based on, they said, the low profile of the city centre. The independents that are left battle really hard not only against a difficult retail environment nationally, but also against a poor local retail environment. When making the decision where to shop, the customer looks at the whole package. If Hereford doesn’t offer them an easy shopping experience, it won’t matter what you do to try to promote your business, what you sell or how well you sell it, people will choose to go somewhere else and Hereford will continue to decay. And decaying it is – in front of our eyes. No amount of repaving and planting can stop this. If you don’t believe me, take a walk down Commercial St and see for yourself.
Hereford retail has been going backwards for years. The relative lack of national chains in High Town is evidence of this – no Debenhams, no House of Fraser, no Zara, no Mango. These retailers demand big modern buildings, something which High town does not have. Without a good mix of national and local retail as part of the package we cannot expect to have a thriving retail scene. Church St could be a potential retailing jewel to rival the Shambles in York, and yet so many businesses find it hard to thrive there. They can’t attract shoppers on their own. We need to do it together. They need to be part of the package.
Hereford could be, should be, as good as Shrewsbury, and it isn’t. But it must be, so I welcome ESG. I embrace it. Had it come along 10 years earlier, who knows, Chadds might still be trading.
This is not to say, however, that it is going to be simple. I share the general concern about the need to connect the new with the old because if we maroon High Town, we stand to kill it. Nothing will be served if all the major players decamp to ESG and leave a vacuum in High Town. So if ESG is to serve its purpose in revitalising Hereford, it must be incremental to what we already have, and not a replacement for it. We must embrace the new and re-market the old and make more use of our historic buildings and our wonderful Cathedral and River. Imagine the attraction of a city with a historic central core and a shopping experience to rival other destinations. People would rather come to a place with character and history and not a big white shopping centre that looks the same as many others. But they do expect a certain standard.
I worry about the traffic issues. This town is a traffic nightmare already, and we mustn’t make it worse. It has a reputation and this is difficult to change. We really must sort out Newmarket and Blueschool Streets. Furthermore, Hereford is the only town of any size in the Marches that has a major highway grinding straight through the middle of it. We – Herefordians – have only ourselves to blame for the situation we are in. When we had a chance to get a second river crossing in the recent past, we blew it because we couldn’t make our minds up where to put it. I applaud Councillor Philips’ determination to get it right this time, but already I see the negativity among people in the local press. So many ways to say no it can’t be done when what we really need is positivity. Yes we need it, we want it, how can we achieve it?
To me as a retailer, the ESG and the second river crossing are an inseparable combination because if we get ESG without radically improved traffic management, it will not work. If our roads are choked already, how can we expect people to have a good experience if they come to see the new Hereford
And sit stewing in traffic jams. If that happens, they won’t come back, they will go elsewhere – and there are many other places to go; not only Cheltenham, Birmingham and Worcester but also a vastly improved Cardiff and Bristol. If shoppers do go elsewhere, it is only a matter of time before the shopkeepers, restauranteurs and the rest look at their books, pull the plug and follow suit, and Hereford will be back to square one with no second chance to put things right
The same applies to parking. There has to be enough of it. It has to be in the right places, to service High town as well as the new development. It has to be affordable and it has to be pay-on-exit – not tickets stuck on windscreens if we are to persuade visitors to spend time here and enjoy the variety of delights that Hereford has to offer.
Hereford is my city. I was born here. I have spent most of my life here. I love it. But I am not blind to its faults. I wish I were more proud of it than I am.
So many of the friends I had at 6th form college who now live away are desperate to move back here. They all have such fond memories of the safe place where we all grew up. But they look back now and see what it has to offer in terms of jobs and facilities for their families and not even the lure of the Hereford countryside can persuade them to make the move. Well not until retirement perhaps. ESG gives this city a priceless, unrepeatable opportunity to make up for lost time. It will put us back on the map and I am convinced there will be a roll-on effect. Attracting new businesses to Hereford and new families to settle here is vital to our success as a city.
We cannot afford to let this chance escape, and this means we have got to get it right. At the end of the day, the retailing scheme will succeed only if sufficient retailers invest in Hereford, and stay here for the long term. They must find sustained success here in the form of visitor numbers and money through the till. It is up to us, all of us, to ensure that we create a scheme that will enable this to happen.Traffic, parking, connectivity, a second river crossing; these, to me, are the vital issues. I want to be proud of Hereford again and I want to be part of improving the city for my family to enjoy in the future. And I wish those concerned every success in getting them right.’