Harpenden residents offer ideas to boost High Street

MORE suggestions for the development of Harpenden High Street have flooded into the Herts Advertiser offices following the recent publication of our shopping survey.

Almost 250 people completed the survey at the Harpenden Highland Gathering, and their responses included calls for a department store, cheap clothes shops and fewer chain outlets.

Now additional residents have come forward with their ideas for how Harpenden can turn around a recent dip in fortunes highlighted by a spate of shop closures.

Miles Thomas, of St James Road, said: “It is somewhat unfortunate that one of the best sites in the town, the store formerly occupied by Mayor Cllr Michael Weaver’s C&A ironmongery business, is now an expensive clothes shop. From my own point of view, what I currently find lacking in Harpenden is a comprehensive and good value shop covering home maintenance and gardening.

“Yes, there are several businesses that cover parts of this need in the town, but it either requires several trips or the items on sale are not great value unless you have a trade discount, in short a business a bit like C&A.

“A good replacement would be a comprehensive catalogue/trade counter type ironmongery in one of the industrial buildings in Southdown or Batsford. At the moment I often travel to a chain DIY shed or trade counter outside the town unless I need just one small item urgently.

“I also feel that some of the gaps in Harpenden’s retail could be addressed by attracting an ordinary street market, including greengrocer, butcher, fish and clothing, to the town once or twice a week, possibly using the flat car park on Bowers Way. The farmers’ market is welcome but isn’t regular enough for a weekly shop and doesn’t cover the full range required.”

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Chris Farenden said: “I would also like to see Clinton Cards, another reasonably-priced ladies’ store, and maybe even a Pound Shop as they seem to be on every High Street and would bring in shoppers from outside Harpenden as well. Having lived here for 32 years I love my town and it still gives me a buzz when I walk down the High Street and I feel very lucky to live here.”

Sheila Harris, who has lived in Harpenden for 71 years, recalled an age when it was a friendly and pleasant place to shop, full of a variety of independent shops.

“To name but a few: Anscombes was a small department store where you could buy almost anything from a pin to a piece of furniture, there was a grocer, greengrocer, butcher, baker, fishmonger, corn/seed merchant, shoe shops, men’s outfitters, an indoor market, chemist and even a smithy.

“I agree there are too many coffee shops in Harpenden at the present. In the past there were just one or two places to pop into to have a cup of tea or coffee, namely the Swallow Caf�, a snack bar within the indoor market, Sids in Thompsons Close, Mary Ellen’s and I dare not leave out Benny’s the local coffee bar where the youngsters hung out – trouble was very rare there as Benny ruled.

“There are not so many of us remaining now that remember ‘the village’ as it was, but those who are still around will I am sure agree with me. Unfortunately one by one all of our little shops gradually disappeared over the years. Should such a variety of shops ever return they will not survive due to the exhorbitant prices charged by the property owners, landlords and the high business rates that prevail.”

Nina Fox said: “When looking at how we want to shape the High Street, the council should take a look at Marlow in Buckinghamshire. A few years ago they had a number of shops close down and hence a few empty premises. However they worked hard to attract the right profile of retailers and caf�s to match the profile of the locals, who are very similar to those in Harpenden.”

But Harpenden Mayor Cllr Michael Weaver’s campaign to increase free parking from one to two hours was not met with such a positive response.

Alison Felton said: “I fear that changing the parking to two hours would be detrimental to many of the retailers on the High Street. I confess that I often park in town but the current one hour parking means there is a regular turnover of spaces and I am able to find a space reasonably quickly. Having talked to local friends it is clear many of them do the same and rarely need more than an hour to visit the shops, the exception being for supermarket shopping.

“I would urge Cllr Weaver to survey users of Harpenden shops in more detail – there are important benefits of one hour parking and these seem to have been overlooked.”

Sue Maltby added: “In my view two hours free parking will just mean fewer shoppers and less spending on the High Street. Who says they need two hours to shop in a High Street the size of Harpenden? What would be nice is different to what is actually necessary.

“In my view, a better option would be to get Sainsbury’s to refund their shoppers parking charges for the local car park above their store. They do not have to own it or have anything to do with the runnng of it, just refund the charge when a customer spends over a certain amount.

“Surely the greater turnover of shoppers you get on the High Street is what will provide more income for the shopkeepers? I do not think that allowing two hours free parking will mean people will spend any more than they would have done during the hour, their shop will just be more leisurely.”