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Moreton Means Business Event

Held on 24th April 2019

Introduction

The event was held at The Swan Inn and was attended by a range of local business people. David Ayton-Hill, member of the Neighbourhood Development Plan Working Group with a background in economic development, gave an introductory presentation which outlined the background to the Neighbourhood Plan and some examples of what other Neighbourhood Plans have done to encourage economic prosperity for their towns. The session was then thrown open to the attendees to get their views on business in the town and what could be done to help support the local economy.

 

The detail of the comments are in the rest of the document but some of the main comments were:

  • We need to consider the High Street and the two existing business parks, plus ‘out-of-town’ retail such as the Fosseway Garden Centre.

  • The High Street in particular has changing pressures caused by:

    • New demands from a changing population as younger people and families move into the new estates

    • Online shopping o Increasing traffic levels

  • Small businesses need lower start-up costs – potentially via shared office / retail facilities and growth hubs.

  • Access to the High Street in particular needs to be improved – by local people on foot or bike and by others in their cars.

  • Residents on the newer estates often commute away from Moreton-in-Marsh as they find it difficult to use their skills within the town. Demand for the Cotswold Business Park is strong, so the land opposite allocated for employment could be another successful economic centre for local jobs.

  • Improved information about local businesses and retail, plus better signage and walking/cycling routes would help people to access what they need locally.

  • Better communication within the local business community could be helpful

High Street

 

Perhaps, not surprisingly, a great deal of the discussion focused on the High Street, which was felt to have shops and eateries with a heavy focus on tourism, and a lack of ‘things to do’. It was agreed that diversity was important and is needed to help strengthen the High Street, along with the need for experiences, in order to make the town centre a more vibrant place to visit. There was also a desire to encourage evening economy on the High Street, in the shape of both more activities (cinema, bowling alley etc) and more bars/restaurants. It was noted that planning permission had been given to the former HSBC bank to become a hotel with a ground floor wine bar/restaurant.

 

There were views that the High Street was straight up and down “there are no nooks and crannies”. There was interest, therefore, in expanding the town centre to include, for example, the Fosseway Business Park, which might provide more smaller retail units (as opposed to large commercial units); the representative of the owner of this Park was present and indicated that he was open to extending the scope of the park. Other areas suggested for more commercial units included the crossroads of London Road and Bourton Road with the Fosseway and the Royal British Legion if there was opportunity there.

 

It was noted that bigger towns have more office space and incubator units for new business start-ups or younger/growing businesses. This would help encourage greater employment and different types of activity in the town, which could in turn increase spend on the high street.

 

There followed a discussion on how the Neighbourhood Plan could influence the use of sites and put planning policy in place to protect sites i.e. to prevent them being used for housing, or put greater sequential testing before change of use could be allowed. However it was recognised that this could create some concerns as developers/land owners would normally prefer housing due to the high values that can be generated this way.

 

It was felt that one important way to encourage local people to use the High Street more would be to provide better walking and cycling routes to the High Street, particularly from the new housing estates and employment sites, and including well-lit paths in the evening. Concern over the safety of current routes was noted, particularly the road bridge at the north end of town needing to be made safe for pedestrians. The creation of a potential network of walking and cycling routes and better signage for these was strongly supported.

 

It was viewed by an estate agent in attendance that the new housing estates have brought many younger people and families into the town and they want different things from a town centre, such as meals out and experiences, which they struggle to find in Moreton. It was felt that this could bring new opportunities (i.e. the evening economy, activities/things to do with children) which could be promoted, but it would of course be important that local residents supported and used any new activities/uses that came into the town.

 

Another suggestion to get people to use the High Street was to set up a 'click and collect' scheme, with online shopping functionality so that residents can make purchases from different stores in town (say the butcher, Ideal Homes) and have them delivered to a local pub, so that they can pick them up from there on their way from work/after shop opening hours.

 

Shop size was questioned: it was observed that the units on Moreton's High Street are generally very small, limiting their attractiveness to retailers. An independent shop owner in attendance highlighted the problem of rates: small traders can't afford the rates making it difficult to set up activity places. It was noted that Cotswold District Council offer small business rates relief but concern that not many businesses qualify for this, even if they don’t have a very big shop/space.

 

Rents are also high. It is thought that 99% of shops are owned by individuals and there is little opportunity to influence them (with their rent pricing), as rents are dictated by market forces. The estate agent said there is often significant interest shown in the smaller units that come on the market for takeaways, but A5 business use (cooking on site –not just heating food) is very difficult to get.

 

So, the combination of rents and rates are a barrier to businesses opening on the high street and prevent entrepreneurs getting a foot in the door. Would restricting change of use help? The estates agent suggested that it could be a double-edged sword: it could drive rents down, but it could also increase the number of empty spaces in town, as it may then not be able to be used for the uses that are currently in demand. Two ways of bringing in more retail opportunities were multi-use seasonal units (might be a café in the summer tourist season, but something else in the winter…) and pop-up shops.

 

It was felt that parking was an issue affecting the High Street. There were some thoughts and concern given to how people would be encouraged to use a new car park if there were to be one, particularly commuters if free parking was available on the High Street. Enforcement in the centre of town would be required, but it’s costly. The need to work with GWR to resolve the problem was noted.

 

A suggestion of residents only parking permits over particular time periods as a way of managing use of parking on the High Street was noted. This would need further thought and considerations to potential other types of permits for example for hotel guests and tourists.

 

Out of Town Retail

 

As previously mentioned, it was indicated that the Fosseway Business Park would be happy to encourage more businesses (retail/commercial) to the site (there is absolutely no intention for it to become housing). A participant had the idea of making the Business Park a centre for shops supplying local people’s need, while the High Street could focus on tourism activities/attractions. This would require a change of use, and would be subject to sequential testing (i.e. why can’t this be done within the High Street), but could be explored further.

 

There is plenty of demand for B2 office space at Cotswold Business Park, so the question was posed as to whether the employment land allocated on the Fire Services College (opposite the Cotswold Business Park) could be acquired/turned over to B2 units, as they would be easier to let.

 

At this point, a question was asked as to whether it would be possible for new employment land to provide affordable units (compare with affordable housing), so that start-ups can afford to take them on.

 

Overall, it was agreed that Moreton needs to attract higher paid industries and could benefit from more office space/space for technology businesses; lots of new houses have been built but the number of skilled jobs available in Moreton is limited, which means that residents’ money is being filtered outside the community, as people travel for work and spend their money (lunch, evening meals and general shopping) elsewhere.

 

Home Workers

 

On the subject of skilled workers, some of the home workers in the audience supported the idea of having a hub in town that provides low cost office facilities (desk, Wi-Fi, printing, coffee etc) at hourly rates – a place that would bring them into the heart of town on a regular basis and encourage them to use the High Street.

 

Akin to serviced offices, these shared facilities buildings have often proved popular, as people want small units and shared costs. Someone mentioned that Old Market Way has a couple of small units but generally there is limited availability.

 

It was asked whether developers should be encouraged to develop live/work spaces, but the commercial property agent in the room explained that these could be difficult to finance and there are likely to be associated costs when looking to sell the live/work space.

 

Tourism

It was generally agreed that Moreton could do something to improve its tourist offering, but the question was what it could offer to differentiate itself.

 

One participant highlighted that the caravan site is very busy all year round and brings in a lot of business to the local retailers. Many of those visiting the caravan park walk into town (as they don’t want to move their motorhome once parked), therefore Moreton needs to create more things to do and see in and around town.

 

These were some of the suggestions made:

  • Queen Victoria Gardens could be improved to provide something for all ages, including toilets. Broadway’s park/play area is a very good example of its type and Moreton should follow its lead, as it’s so good that people make a day trip to Broadway just to go to it.

  • There was a desire to see more walking trails and cycling paths.

  • It was agreed that it was important to have more and better signage, which would help with connectivity.

  • A cinema, a bowling alley, a pottery workshop i.e. things to do indoors when it’s raining would be welcome.

  • Creative activities and centres (especially for children), would be a boon

Communication

There was support for having an active Business Association in Moreton, as it is currently inert and not up to date with matters relating to businesses, such as major planning applications that might have a direct impact.

 

In general, one participant questioned how people find out what’s going on, particularly if you’re not on social media. The recently published Town Council newsletter had a good list of events, but it was thought more regular communications/advertisement would be helpful.

 

It was also suggested that more information could be available online, so people (residents and visitors alike) can easily find businesses and services in Moreton-in-Marsh; an app could even be developed.

Download the event's powerpoint presentation and summary below:

 Event Summary 
 
Summary of Moreton Means Business event held on 24th April 2019.
 Presentation 
Presentation from Moreton Means Business event on 24th April 2019.
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