NIMBYs or BISTYs for Shrewsbury?

There was a recent talk at the Bear Steps about Shrewsbury in the 2020s. It was both hopeful and alarming. There’s now a display about the forces of change in the entrance lobby. Its open to everyone.

They say those who reject change are sometimes called NIMBYs, (Not In My Back Yard) but Griff Rhys Jones (yes – the presenter and comedian who is also the president of Civic Voice) says,“There’s no such thing as a NIMBY…” Everyone’s view of our environment is equally valid. Indeed, they are sometimes called BIMBYs (Beautiful In My Back-Yard). There is actually a National Commission called “Building Better – Building Beautiful” (BBBBC) working to produce another report into the quality of new housing and how local folk might collaborate with developers. Will Shropshire decision-makers use its findings?

Shrewsbury is at the brink of massive change – change that is potentially more significant than what happened in the 1960s. There are several forces at work that could bring innovative improvements or terrible tragedies. It’s rare that such a combination of factors comes together and they are likely to set Shrewsbury on a path of development that will have some very mixed popularity.

As Sir Neil Cossons said, “the town is on the cusp of change….” and town folk will have to work very hard to protect it from short-termism and bad developments. After all, Shrewsbury has, (as Stan Sedman MBE says), “a genuine built heritage of ten to eleven centuries”. It is one of the very few genuine English market towns left and that’s why it is so popular for visitors. Indeed, unlike many similar towns the number of visitors to Shrewsbury has risen (although in times of hardship they spend less). There are many festivals and events and a large number of interesting independent shops. Then there is a growing number of visitor attractions and all in the face of widespread difficulties that all high streets are having (high rents, high rates, internet shopping, etc). But the Shrewsbury BID has been very effective in mitigating these effects.

The point is that Shrewsbury is a splendid town – much loved by residents and greatly admired by visitors. Since 1973, its Conservation Area has helped to protect its best features and it is said to be a ‘secret gem’. Its streetscapes and heritage remain genuine and so much is unique. Mike Carter says, “At the Bear Steps, visitors from Edinburgh, Bath, Cambridge and Winchester, quite apart from Canada, Australia and USA have all remarked what a treasure Shrewsbury is”. Even the Big Town Plan’s consultant was reluctant about suggesting changes to such a fine town. But that was mostly about the buildings. Shrewsbury has much more. There is an unusually large number of creative and enterprising people, especially in the arts. Consequently, there’s lots of interesting and stimulating things to see, do and hear.

It’s no surprise that residents, even those recently moved to Shrewsbury, feel a strong sense of ownership for the town. They are quite cautious about changes that could impact on the town, because they don’t want the unique features blemished, even for economic growth. That is not being a NIMBY. It’s being a BISTY (Beautiful in Shrewsbury Town for Years).

As they say “Join the club” – well – at least join Shrewsbury Civic Society.

That’s a good start.