Marks and Spencers

Death of a town

Kettering – what happened?

Trying to get in, and out, of Kettering this week has lead me to writing this piece. The A6 all snarled up, can’t get out of Warkton Lane, honestly, it’s a nightmare. Sitting in the traffic made me think about this town that I’ve been involved with, personally and in business, for the past 27 years and I’m firmly convinced unless something dramatic happens the place may well die. The town centre anyway; there are destination places: Wicksteed Park being one of them, but why would you wake up on a Saturday morning and think to yourself ‘let’s go to Kettering’? It’s expensive to park, the one way system makes it difficult to navigate (unless you know the town) and once you get there what do you have to look forward to? A slew of charity shops and market researchers and charity organisations hassling you through the High Street. It’s unbelievably off putting.

Market Street and the market square

The latest developments in the town have been the redesign of the market square and the pedestrianisation of Market Street. Anyone who had a business down there last year I feel so sorry for, at least one folded. The restaurants in the market square lie empty; I heard today the only interest there has been has been another Subway. I like Subway, but the town doesn’t need another one. The Market Street project baffles me. How much did it cost and what was the purpose? It worked well as a thoroughfare before, particularly if you had banking business to do, now the drive past trade for many of the shops there has gone. They are left with a walk way which the Council are terrified of cold weather because the surface that has put down is lethal in icy conditions. On the bright side there are blue lights in the pavement! Millions has been spent on the town and it serves only to highlight that the powers that be have absolutely no idea how to revive it.

Tesco, Tesco, everywhere

If Marks and Spencers left Kettering town centre there would be no blue chip stores in the town. Instead throughout the town Tesco dominates. The massive out of town store and three other Tesco Express’. Guess which major store chain announced less than expected Christmas profits and had £5 billion wiped off it’s share price? Of course, it was Tesco. A sign that Kettering Council has backed the wrong horse again. Obviously Tesco is still the number one retailer, but it has a lot of work to do to regain the customers it has lost. Exactly like Kettering itself. Asda moved in, but even that is a shadow of the Corby store.

Does anyone understand this?

The football club has left, and struggled, on and off the pitch, since its move to Nene Park. All the planning of Kettering seems to be one short term plan after another. The price increase in parking is ridiculous. £1.10 for an hour? It’s 50p for 2 hours in Corby, free in Wellingborough and in some car parks in Northampton free for the first hour there too. Does no one at the Council realise the folly of this policy? They even put up the price of Pop and Shop, from 10p to 30p. Why? What message does it give consumers? It say’s ‘this is a town that doesn’t care’. The road information signs coming into the town. Whose bright idea was that? Absolutely useless. The only time you see them is when you are in a traffic jam because someone is digging up the roads again. The double roundabout at the bottom of Northampton Road. Why? To help the flow of traffic? Was it that bad? Hadn’t the lights worked for years down there? Everywhere you look in Kettering you see a waste of money or no money. A high street of charity shops doesn’t build confidence in a town. The only sector that seems to be thriving is coffee shops. It began with Kanega in Montagu Street ten years ago and now they proliferate. How long will they all last? The town on a Saturday night is a shadow of itself, ‘Rehab’ has closed down; ‘Abacus’ and ‘Decades’ appear to be doing all right and the ‘Earl of Dalkeith’ is part of a chain (Wetherspoons) that know hows to keep customers.

Who is it getting it right?

What to do then? Develop strong leadership from somewhere. Corby is leading the way with its swimming pool, the Cube and all the shops it’s attracted in the past decade. Kettering seems to look on in envy. Kettering looks like the wayward cousin who can’t understand why its local rival is doing so well. Kettering offers virtually nothing to a consumer, other than some great independent shops (places like ‘Chopper’ and ‘Exhibit 21’ in Montagu Street) and destination places as I mentioned earlier. Writing this actually gives me the answer, I wonder how many people from local government can work it out? The answer is that Chopper, Exhibit 21, Wicksteed and any other place in Kettering that is doing well focusses on their customers. They ask what does the consumer want? They encourage their customers to visit them. They make their environment warm, inviting and make you want to spend money with them. People of Kettering Council learn from these people or you have had it. Dead, buried and gone and I think that would be a terrible shame for a market town, that not that long ago, was a nice place to visit.