Wick Businesses Talk With Councillors About How To Improve The Town Centre
18th April 2019
Wick Town Hall packed as businesses and councillors gather to discuss ambitious town centre regeneration vision.
More than 50 retailers and business owners attend presentation and discussion session in Wick Town Hall, hosted by all four ward councillors.
Councillors unveil three-part draft strategy to tackle derelict buildings, deliver flagship development, improve built environment.
Funding streams and community-led regeneration vehicle identified.
Plans have been identified to breathe new life into the tired town centre of Wick, as part of a broad-ranging regeneration strategy. Wick and East Caithness councillors Raymond Bremner, Willie Mackay, Andrew Sinclair and Nicola Sinclair joined forces to host a Town Hall meeting for residents, business owners and retailers in the immediate town centre area. In a detailed presentation, the councillors outlined work undertaken to date, which includes four town centre tours, hundreds of images, a mapping exercise, monthly meetings with Council regeneration and planning officers, and meetings with key stakeholders including HIE, CNSRP, NDA and SSE. The Councillors have identified various funding streams - including Council investment - and currently have an application pending with Sustrans for a town centre design project.
As a result of this preparatory work, a three-pronged regeneration strategy has been identified, which encompasses:
- A focus on priority derelict buildings, and a preferred way forward agreed with key owners.
- Exploration of a flagship development to ‘anchor' the regeneration and drive footfall. Community-led proposals for an indoor market on the High Street will be taken forward by an options appraisal, with funding decision pending.
- A physical regeneration of the town centre, particularly the Market Square, to include better signage, attractive public gathering spaces, more trees and flowers, shop front improvement grant scheme and a coherent visual identity that reflects Wick's character and history
Following the presentation, councillors invited attendees to discuss their priorities for action and development, and provide feedback to the draft strategy being proposed. The wide-ranging, constructive discussion covered: traffic management, parking and pedestrianized zone; lack of footfall and vibrancy due to online and out-of-town competition; high number of derelict buildings and empty retail units; desire to capitalise on the NC500 and market the town to tourists; need for targeting of Council resources to improve streetscape, with localism being a key opportunity to deliver this.
Following on from this successful first meeting, councillors will now arrange for engagement with key stakeholders in the community before broadening out to wider public discussion and formal launch later in the summer. Councillors will continue to develop plans internally by securing buy-in from key Council officers and departments, and will facilitate focused follow-up workshops for retailers on subjects such as business rates and traffic management. The regeneration strategy itself will be driven by a development trust led by the community and businesses, with support from Council.
Speaking on behalf of all four Ward 3 councillors, Cllr Nicola Sinclair said: ‘We've done extensive groundwork and research into town centre regeneration since our election nearly two years ago, and the successful initiatives are the ones that try to do things differently. We won't turn the town centre around by hoping for a big new retail chain, nor should we. The ideas that work reimagine the high street and reclaim it as the heart of the community. It should be an area that people want to visit, to meet up, and that reflects the unique character and history of the town.
‘Currently I feel that Wick town centre is a No Man's Land between our beautiful Riverside and the now-vibrant Harbour. We need to give it its own distinct identity and style, which gives visitors and locals a warm welcome and reflects our proud maritime and civic history.
‘We have an incredible voluntary sector here and elected members are working across party lines to find a way to make this happen. In these financial times we need to get creative, but we genuinely believe it can be done, if we all work together. Tonight's meeting was a key first step in achieving that and I want to thank the attendees for taking the time and for engaging with us so positively.'
Cllr Willie Mackay said:Caithness civic leader Willie Mackay said " I was particularly delighted with the turnout for our meeting , there is no doubt those attending did fully appreciate of what we are trying to do here for the regeneration of Wick Town Centre . What's more there was no negativity from the attentive audience around the planned project. Irrespective of our party political persuasions all four of us Wick and East Caithness councillors are united in progressing with our plan and I look forward to the follow up meetings where all those who came along and anyone who missed the meeting will be invited to join us. "
PHOTO - Ward 3 East Caithness Councillors
L to R - Raymond Bremner, Andrew Sinclair, Nicola Sinclair, Willie Mackay