Councillor Steve Smith has made some interesting and perceptive comments on the footfall problem in Dartmouth. The comments below were written by Steve at 11.25 pm Saturday night so Steve is obviously not a fan of Match of the Day, but at least he is engaging with the debate and is always worth listening to:
Some might declare that I should be boiled in oil for not shopping in the Lower Town..once the Market Hub of Dartmouth when my family arrived and settled down in 1959..but living at Townstal it’s easy to visit the big retail boys and the parking is available and free.
Ed has questioned if Sainsburys and Lidl have a benchmark in footfall market research, easily answered, I see so many all year round residents of Dartmouth and surrounding villages shopping at these stores and they do shop there for the same reasons, fair pricing, free available parking…now someone will rightly reply,”As a long serving Town Councillor, Steve, what are you going to do about it”? my answer is simple…”It a battle lost”, when Sainsbury’s and Lidl planning applications were submitted warnings shots were fired by the Chamber of Trade that it would knock the stuffing out of Dartmouth as a market trading town and it did, and now Dartmouth has become a day visitor town.
Many scorn me when I say, when Woolworths closed its doors for good there was no reason to shop in central Dartmouth, Dartmouth has been changed into specialised retail units, items that residents dont have on their shopping lists weekly to keep the family fed.
I was shocked to visit Paignton and Torquay recently to see so many retail units empty and boarded up..Crossways Paignton once a community retail hub now derelict,
I share with you as a 16 year old apprentice grocer in 1968, I attended a seminar in London with International Stores Ltd and the subject was, “Out of town Hypermarkets and the dangers of marketing locally” we were warned way back then and its come home to bite us on the butt.
The stark choice for locals is choice, affordability as the all year round majority of residents live on the Townstal estate, allowing 648 homes in Dartmouth to become second homes in a population less than 6,000 what can you expect…like it or not…it’s fact not fiction…so the million $ question is how can we put this right? I confess I don’t have an answer and I sincerely wish that I did, but the fact is if you are ugly like me you have to live with it and make the best of it.
Reply from Dartmouth Business News:
Steve you are of course right in stating that lower town Dartmouth is no longer the shopping destination of choice for residents doing their weekly shop. You also state rightly that, like it or not, this is a fact. But I question your statement “how do we put it right?”. This assumes that the change is wrong and I question whether this kind of change is wrong. This is what is happening everywhere in the country driven by customers needs, and the successful towns are the ones that recognise and embrace this change by making it happen the way they want it to happen.
The problem with your analysis is that it assumes that the only reason to visit Dartmouth lower town is for shopping! Remember when we did the detailed survey of Dartmouth’s attraction to visitors for the BID project. Then shopping was not high on the list. The beauty of the river side location, the History and heritage which is only contained in the lower town, the independent craft shops and galleries, the coastal walks, the dog friendly location, the quality restaurants and coffee bars, the sailing and water sports, the festivals and regatta’s and last but not least the friendly community. There are many reasons why people should want to visit the lower town, and indeed we love to walk into Dartmouth for a coffee because we are guaranteed to meet at least one person for a chat. I think its called the cafe society. This is one of the reasons why I favour pedestrian areas in the lower town because I believe they are more amenable to meeting people for a chat and a coffee (perhaps a slice of coffee cake too!!). In our business we met many people who were visiting from “That London” who were surprised to find that people actually said hello in the street! You cant beat the friendly ambience of the town.
However, like all great destinations, we need to make sure we spread the word about how great the town is to the national and international audience that would appreciate it, as well as to locals. Locals also need to understand that visitors are good for our economy, even second homes can be good in the right numbers sustaining a large number of builders and contractors, and shopping in the lower town, and don’t forget that our galleries play a big part in drawing these visitors to the town. So stop complaining about galleries please!!!! (not you Steve).
My poor wife Brenda gets exasperated whenever I mention the ill fated BID, but as you know most of what I have been involved in in this town, including my time on Council, as Chairman of the Dartmouth Business Forum, as Trustee of the Flavel and founder and Chairman of the Dartmouth BID has been aimed at helping the people of Dartmouth understand how we can take advantage of the gem of a place we live in to stimulate economic growth, job creation and prosperity for the whole town. Tourism is our majority industry sector today, I know that is not ideal as it is seasonal with low paid jobs, but if we are to attract non tourism businesses to the town (an objective of the BID) then we must first prosper in our main sector, Tourism. We can only do this if we use the most effective methods possible to promote the town and its many attractions. In my opinion that is where we are failing today and that is the focus of my outspoken campaign about footfall on this website.
I am trying to find some way of getting the businesses of Dartmouth to wake up to the problem and realise that no one else is going to fix this problem, only the businesses of Dartmouth can work together to invest in marketing Dartmouth, and until that happens the footfall decline in the lower town will continue. That is why I am frutrated with the Town Council investing in an old building rather than promoting the town now that they own the Dartmouth Visitor Center. So far business people and Councillors have been trying to justify the footfall drop we are seeing rather than saying this is an issue! we need to respond. There are some people who interpret my comments as running Dartmouth down, that is also completely wrong. It is my passion for Dartmouth and its potential as a quality destination that motivates me to keep up the debate.
As I have said before Dartmouth deserves better.