Introduced by Ceinwen Davies, Town Centre Manager, Radstock, 23 September 1999

Before joining B&NES, the speaker carried out similar duties at two towns in the Midlands.

Town centres, especially Bath, provide many facilities other than shopping, unlike some out-of-town shopping centres, but retailing was the chief subject of this talk.

It is the traders who attract the shoppers to a town and the role of the Town Manager is to ensure that the shopper is not discouraged from visiting and re-visiting the town because of experiencing crime, litter, unpleasant toilets and similar off-putting features. It is also necessary to ensure that it is easy to find one's way about the town, so that town guides, signs and information boards are important.

Retailing takes several forms. Shops already have several competing services, such as mail order and petrol stations, but the new major development is Internet shopping, which could become a major threat to conventional shops for some types of goods.

Town Management has to serve all the various types of shopping _ convenience, browsing and seasonal shopping require different approaches. It is also necessary to support the out-of-centre shopping areas which serve residents locally. All this has to be done on a budget which is tiny compared to that available to an out-of-town shopping centre like Cribbs Causeway, which spends millions on publicity. The town centre manager has only a few thousand pounds available to spend so has to charm and persuade other organisations to devote resources to the promotion of the town. The local newspaper and radio station can play an important role.

During the discussion various questions, which are frequently aired, were again raised, such as ` Why, in Bath, do we have so many empty shops when there is said to be a queue of firms wanting to open one in the City?' (the legal process takes a long time); `Why does not the Council, who own so many shops, rent to `useful' shops at a lower rent to encourage them?' (the Council is required to get the best rent it can).

The threat of Internet shopping was dismissed by some people who felt that customers wanted to see and feel the goods before they bought, but it is interesting that the next day it was reported that a Guest House in Bath now receives 90% of its bookings over the Internet. Photographs or video pictures provided enough information for the customer to decide.

Inevitably, the question of Christmas Lights arose. Retailers feel the Council should be responsible for them in view of the high business rates they pay but the Council claim not to have the money available.

The major concern in town centres is traffic but this subject was deliberately not discussed as it was to be raised at the Transport Group soon.

Rodney Tye