The Twenties are Coming!

Shrewsbury survived the 1960s but lost several fine public buildings that were replaced mostly with ugly ones. Now, the next 20 years, or so, is likely to be another period of considerable change. Although, we now have a Conservation Area designed to protect the original town and its heritage, factors are marshalling in the wings that could lead to some wonderful opportunities or some terrible threats.

1. The Big Town Plan (BTP) has some great over-riding principles such as a ‘Green Network’, ‘Making Movement Better’ and seeking to have ‘Balanced Growth’ for Shrewsbury. This ‘Balanced Growth’ principle includes mixing the uses of land and spreading new homes across the town – not just in fringe estates. Importantly, the BTP also includes aspirations to control the quality of developments through a ‘Design Charter’ and a so-called ‘Shrewsbury Test’. However, these are now mostly subsumed into Shropshire Council’s county wide ‘Accreditation Scheme’, which is voluntary for any developer in Shropshire. Will this stop “bog-standard” estates?

2. The (Shropshire) Local Plan is seeking 8,000 new homes for Shrewsbury by 2036. (That’s equivalent to about 23% more population, taking the town to over 100,000.) Some estates are already being built. This is the highest growth of any Shropshire
town and the Local Plan has allocated sites on the town’s fringes. There could be some additional guidance concerning the quality of buildings needed, but it can’t be required. The Local Plan recognises the BTP’s aspirations for “Balanced Growth” and is suggesting that some 1,500 of those new homes could be built across the town, without pre-allocated sites. These so-called “windfall developments” are mostly small scale, probably of variable quality and unlikely to contribute much to infrastructure needs or so-called ‘affordable housing’. It seems that Shrewsbury will have the most new homes with the least clear planning of any Shropshire town.

3. The demise of the High Street and shopping: The retail sector nationally is going through catastrophic change, largely due to internet shopping. Shrewsbury has worked effectively to bolster foot-fall and the number of events and popularity of the town has been boosted by the local BID project. However, harsh business rates are significantly affecting many businesses. Visitors come to Shrewsbury because of its unspoilt streetscapes and atmosphere. These give a wonderful context for our many highly-valued independent shops. Shropshire Council’s ownership of two shopping malls offers possibilities to mitigate the slow demise of shopping in Shrewsbury. However, in times of financial difficulty there are real pressures to increase signage and advertising to lure custom. This can erode the town’s genuine features and long-term originality.

4. The North West Relief Road. Shropshire Council has committed to build this road and complete the Shrewsbury by-pass. Unfortunately, the statistics about the degree of relief it will offer to town centre traffic, are comparatively minimal. Some say it could reduce town centre visitors and increase traffic on certain roads. However, it has potential to support the town’s northern commercial sector and SMEs. It seems obvious that it will provide more housing land to infill, although this has been denied by Shropshire Highways authority. Its costs are high in environmental and financial terms. Will it offer the relief and growth that
is needed?

5. Shrewsbury Place Plan. In order to give coherence and planning aims for the Shrewsbury Area, a ‘Shrewsbury Place Plan’ has been drafted and is on-line. This focuses on infrastructure issues and will be open for consultation via Town and Parish Councils. The Shrewsbury Place Plan Area covers many outlying villages of central Shropshire and seeks to harmonise the disparate needs of all these. However, Place Plans have limited power. For example, anything to do with roads comes under the aegis of Shropshire’s Highways Department (largely outsourced). Decisions such as those affecting the Pride Hill pedestrian area and Town Walls pavings, are not subject to Conservation Area regulations. Some say the town’s originality has already been compromised somewhat.

6. Planning restrictions: Quite apart from the national legislative leniencies and the NPPF’s “presumption in favour of development”, Shropshire’s Local Planning Authority (LPA) has several features affecting its outcomes. Economic growth is the Council’s structural priority. Nevertheless, unlike some LPAs, it has a strong team supporting the historic built environment and Conservation issues. However, the planning department is under-staffed overall and has no heritage architects. It does not use the expertise of design panels that other Councils engage. It has a Buildings’ Awards Scheme and an Accreditation Scheme for
developers of new estates but both are voluntary. Enforcement actions are rare in Shrewsbury. So much rests on the day-by-day judgements of hard pressed staff. Is this current regime robust enough to guide the good development of what Sir Neil Cossons calls, “One of the very few remaining genuine English towns.”

Will Shrewsbury still be the wonderful town it is now, in 2036?

Shrewsbury Civic Society will work hard to maximise the opportunities and eliminate the threats. Together, can the town’s community use the opportunities and reduce the threats? Help us.