What makes people come to a town centre? Letchworth BID manager Tom Hardy on the rise of online shopping and café culture

Letchworth BID manager Tom Hardy talks all things garden city in his weekly Comet column.

Letchworth BID manager Tom Hardy talks all things garden city in his weekly Comet column. - Credit: Archant

What makes visitors come to a town centre in 2017?

I have spent a lot of time conducting talks at various groups on the initiatives and projects being undertaken by the Letchworth Business Improvement District (BID) and Letchworth town centre as a whole.

After explaining what the BID is and our achievements in the town, many group members ask the age old questions “When are we getting better shops?” and “Why can’t Letchworth go back to how it was in the ‘good old days’?”.

Town centres have been changing dramatically, and that’s mainly down to the increase in online shopping – which has changed consumer behaviours and affected why and how people use their town centre.

Many Letchworth businesses put it down to historic traffic flow changes or issues around parking, but we shouldn’t ignore the changes other UK towns are going through and how town centre management bodies and BIDs are reacting to this.

There is certainly a rise of service industries such as hairdressers and estate agents, as well as the rise of coffee shops and restaurants – but should we be discouraging this or accepting the changes our town is going through?

After all, it’s the way people use Letchworth town centre that has driven these changes.

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After talking with various other BID managers from all corners of the UK, this pattern is very common, but it does not rule out the success of our retail offer in today’s town centre.

In fact, in most towns, the higher the restaurant and eateries offer, the stronger and more sustainable the retail offer becomes. Consumers who visit the town for food or drink will often use that time to use the shops.

The BID has recognised this trend in Letchworth, and is working on major website improvements to ensure that we harness this change to benefit the new and existing businesses in the town.

The BID was set up for a five-year period, and in 2019 businesses within the defined area of the town will have the opportunity to vote and, hopefully, enable us to continue for a further five years.

The renewal process starts at the end of this year, and we will be working closely with businesses to ensure we draw up a new business plan that accurately reflects the needs of the town and which will be aimed at improving and sustaining growth.

It’s a great time to think about refreshing the BID as the town centre has seen lots of changes, and in turn will have new needs and hopefully new innovative ideas.

If you have any suggestions feel free to contact me by email at bid@loveletchworth.com.

Opinions expressed in this article, previous articles and any other future articles are my own opinion and do not express the views or opinions of the Letchworth BID.