We start with the premise that having a plan to improve our shops fronts and fascias is a top priority.
Westminster City Council has achieved great success in St. John’s Wood High Street and Marylebone High Street, and we have consulted them as to how this has been achieved.
As a result we therefore respectfully suggest that NBC adopts a strategy of four key principles:
- Policy Provision.
- Foster an awareness at member and officer level that this is a crucially important issue for our historic townscape, and for the economic prosperity of the town centre.
- Ensure that there is a commitment and direction from the top of the organisation to raise NBC’s game – to tackle the streetscape of building frontages in the town-centre, both through applying rigorously high standards to new proposals, and to righting the wrongs of the past wherever possible.
- Recognise and make full use of the regulatory regime (planning permission; advertisement consent; enforcement) at the Council’s disposal – make it a priority that it is used positively and effectively.
- Ensure that all Development Control Officers are properly trained and appraised of the importance of this issue, Applications for shop fronts, fascia changes and advertisements are not ‘rubber stamp’jobs – they require patience, commitment and a keen sense of what is acceptable in terms of design.
- Advertisements and shop front design is not a ‘Cinderella’ issue.
- Ensure that policy/conservation officers charged with developing policy (see below) research all examples of good practice (e.g. Westminster; South Kesteven (Stamford); Bath; York) and build upon what has been done previously by NBC.
- Ensure awareness of the increased planning powers that exist in conservation areas (including article 4 Direction) and for listed buildings.
- Create a quality “Shop Front Design Guide” (SFDG), which should then be implemented. The design policies to be adopted as Supplementary Planning Guidance.
- The SFDG should cover Shop fronts, Blinds and Signs, Advertisement Design Guidelines, and Design Guidelines for shop front security. The SFDG should also include illustrations of examples of both good and bad shopfronts.
- Recruit the general support of the Town Centre BID in formulating and adopting the SFDG.
- Refuse and where possible remove ugly projecting box signs, which are out of proportion and lack conformity.
- Make grants available for excellent examples of traditional shopfronts. Make these grants conditional – if you don’t want shutters, plastic signs etc., don’t give shopkeepers grants if they won’t remove them. It is better to grant funds for fewer projects, but to do them to a high standard. Quality control is vital to avoid the money being spent unwisely and thus having limited or negligible visual impact.
- Recognise and accept that there are numerous examples of unacceptable shop fronts and fascias.
- Audit all town centre streets photographically so that un-authorised changes cannot be made without NBC knowledge.
- Involve the university if assistance and resources are needed for the auditing process.
- Confront immediately any breaches of permission/consent, in order to control the all too common problems of inappropriate changes to shopfronts, by sometimes ill-informed owners, and by the ever changing tide of tenants.
- Don’t hesitate to issue enforcement notices and pursue prosecutions on advertisements where negotiations have failed to resolve the problem. A hard-line approach is necessary to turn the tide, or we will be overwhelmed and our historic town centre will be lost….
Finally, when all this is in progress and results start to show, celebrate and publicise your success!!! What better legacy for those that come after us?