The footfall debate goes on!

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.

Paul Reach


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  1. The BID sadly had a detrimental effect on enthusiasm amongst our business leaders of the community it did not help on support to frog march non supporters to the County Court, what the BID needed was teamwork sadly it almost ended in civil war, but that’s lessons learnt and water under the bridge, but what now, as I have stated I am lost for an answer, but the glimmer of light that glows is on a proactive Chamber of Trade, supported by South Hams and Dartmouth Town Council and all interested stakeholders.
    No one agrees more than me on your comments that Dartmouth deserves better but to achieve that we need to work together.
    The days of the past when long in the tooth residents refer to “Do you remember” when we had four butcher retail outlets five retail supermarkets…International Stores..Co Op..Home and Colonial..Liptons…Cundells… three Fruit and Veg Shops…days of the past and we have moved on…the future is by working together under the dark shadow of BREXIT and the prediction that the UK will be in recession the worst that it has been in living memory, If on the 31st December 2017 I fail to wish everyone a “Happy New Year” then I have good reason to apologise?
    Sad but true, the biggest growth in the UK retail markets is “Foodbanks” does that not send out a very worrying message for the future…if my favourite author, Charles Dickens returned for just one day,I guess he would simply say” Nothing has changed, did anyone read my Oliver Twist and Night Before Christmas novels”, Are there no workhouses,Prisons, decrease the surplus population…throw all that into the Think Tank melting pot.
    Dartmouth will survive through all this only if we work together and are honest with the public, dont ever promise what you cant deliver or have any hope of ever doing so.
    At 65 my candle is burning lower and I just want to be a part of the process that makes a difference whilst I am this side of the grass.

  2. remember Steve the BID was the first time we did get all of the organisations you mentioned above to work together. 2 out of 3 Businesses were in favour of the BID plan. But when it came to delivering the BID we fell seriously short. The only division was between those who wanted to invest in their town and those who did not. Sadly the did nots prevailed in the end I hope you can find a way of reversing that.

  3. The BID was not a democratic or transparent process. Many people felt railroaded into it. It arrived before I did, and when I went to SHDC to enquire about the cost of CT and other expenses of opening a business in Dartmouth-they never even mentioned the BID to me. First I knew of it was when I got a late payment notice some three months later. That’s awful communication.
    The idea of a cafe society is not going to work outside of very wealthy areas in Britain. People do ‘cafe society’ on their boats and yachts in this town. Coming up Dukes Street to the Victoria Road name change is a small miracle. Stepping a few metres up the road further seems to be even rarer. It’s to do with signing, and street identity. What pulls people forward into undiscovered areas is whether or not they have an identity they want to explore. Thus in the US you have ‘chinatowns’ and ‘hipster’ streets. You have in Paris arrondissements with specific personalities. In Totnes-the funkiest town in the UK-you have one long high street that draws people along like a string til you get to the top.
    Nothing like these geographic inducements exists in Dartmouth outside the river. Foss Street through to Anzac and St Saviour’s is a little bit of the right magic. Dartmouth has been sculpted by history, but there is too much fear of changing the townscape to actually make it work for modern people and their habits. I dare say the founders of Dartmouth were far bolder. Spending money on the Guildhall is fine…as long as it includes making the whole of Victoria Road one long mall up towards it so that people are attracted past Foss/Anzac’s junction.
    Businesses past this point are ill served by the huge mismanagement of town assets that already exist in the care of the DTC. The Market and Community Centre, the parking around the Market and in Market and Charles Street, the Ivy Lane Centre, Dartmouth Caring, the apartment blocks up along Victoria Road, the Guildhall finally could all be part of a redesign to attract people and traffic around the town. But it’s too much for the imagination I’m afraid for the town planners.

    • Prana I know you say you weren’t here for the BID project so I understand your negative view of it. I accept that your experience at the hands of SHDC was very bad. However I can assure you it was as democratic as possible with regular information going out to all business rated premises including a business plan, 7 different sector meetings with businesses, the project team members met individually with over 100 local businesses and there was regular reporting in the local press. If you missed it then you had your eyes closed, and those who felt railroaded must have ignored the information sent out to them. The majority of businesses understood that the only people to invest in the towns economy must be the businesses themselves because no one else has the funds to do it. The final vote was 2 to 1 in favour of the plan so it was what the majority of local businesses wanted. Turnout was low but that is to be expected in a town where 40% of the rated premises are holiday lets. I also agree that the delivery of the Business Plan was a total disaster for various reasons but one of its central themes was signage for all the reasons you highlight. Marketing and promoting the town was the main theme and if that had been delivered in full then I feel sure the visitor levels would be better than they are today. You must be careful who you listen to about the BID, very few people know what actually transpired during that project and it is dangerous to make assumptions. If you want to know the full story I am happy to tell you over coffee.

  4. Paul, thanks and I don’t mean to correct you as well…but I was ‘in’ the BID from Mar/April 15. I was the ‘liason’ for the Market Square and wanted it to work, and did some signage half sponsored by the DTC and half by the BID. I was very behind Ali and her efforts. As well as Peter’s when he took over. I know the BID was your baby and you have good reasons to be proud of aspects of it, but the roll out and execution of it was subject to so many miscalculations and misunderstandings that I’m afraid loads of money got wasted which was everyone’s fear.
    Many business owners live on credit. I do. I don’t have a margin to live on and need a second job still. I offer a specialist service, have done most of the right things promoting it, but have never seen you or wife come in to browse…preferring to go to Totnes perhaps for natural products? despite the fact that I’ve seen you both pass by and frequent the Chronicle. If the town leaders won’t shop and frequent and show curiousity in new businesses in the town who will?
    I also suspect that the BID did help me get a foot up in Dartmouth to start with. But the general ‘voice’ of Dartmouth is that the BID was not good for it. It was more like a 50/50 split that got progressively less in favour. The full story is unfortunately that your efforts produced little, and that’s not an indictment. It happens in business. You’ve picked yourself up and created this blog which is great for recording and listening to Dartmouth folks. Keep going. It will bear fruit. I would offer a herbal tea you can try in my shop and we can share experiences, but I don’t need explaining to, honest.

    • I agree that the execution of the BID was where it failed but the Business Plan can still be seen as an indication of what the Businesses of Dartmouth would like to see happen. The consultation process that produced the plan was exhaustive and inclusive and I remain proud of what we achieved during that process. Sadly the failure to execute the BID is a systemic problem that Dartmouth has always had. Too few people understand the importance of marketing and promotion to give the town a higher profile than it has today. This is evident in many places such as the visitor center, which is good at looking after visitors but not so good at getting them here in the first place. Even the Flavel, which could be a wonderful asset to the town, under-performs by quite a long way. There is a similar arts center in Torrington with a smaller theater and similar population they achieve more than twice the turnover than Dartmouth’s Flavel per annum. Again it is marketing that lets them down. They deserve a bigger audience for their efforts but do not invest enough in promoting their activities. Just a personal opinion but adds to the frustration of watching this great town struggle to thrive in the current environment. Surprisingly Bournemouth has just been awarded some international award for desirability in Coastal towns. This might have something to do with the fact it has 2 successful BID’s in both the Town center and the Coastal strip.

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