Two things stand out in the stunning results of the Harrogate Advertiser’s Town Centre Survey.
Town Centre Survey: Making the most of our independents
Firstly, that the Harrogate public cares passionately about the future of the town centre.
Secondly, people have some really good ideas for improving the situation in tough times for high streets across the UK.
When we launched the survey with its 15 wide-ranging questions nearly four weeks ago, we had no idea what to expect in terms of the reaction.
We suspected there would be interest. Afterall, local organisations and business groups are already busy working towards possible changes for the town centre.
To that end, a campaign to turn Harrogate into a Business Improvement District is to be launched next month.
The Harrogate Advertiser’s aim with the new survey was not to pre-empt decision-making.
It was to give the public its own voice in the debate, a real say in all this potential for positive change.
In total, this newspaper received 850 completed surveys.
The Harrogate Advertiser survey is a snapshot of public opinion now and the results make for fascinating reading.
But one answer shows the potential controversy on a subject which seems to divide the public.
When asked “would you like to see more pedestrianisation in Harrogate town centre?” 54.7% said “no” and 45.3% said “yes.”
Such was the tremendous response, a sizable number of readers took the time and trouble to return the forms handwritten, but predominately, people replied online via the Harrogate Advertiser website.
A heartening sign was how often comments were made in great detail.
Some handwritten replies even came with extra bits of paper attached full of notes when the physical space of the survey simply proved too restrictive for the length of the replies.
As to what everyone said, some answers could have been predicted, others came as more of a surprise.
A total of 43.6% said they used the town centre at least once a week while 31% said they used it every day.
The top two reasons for visiting the town centre turned out to be shopping for clothes (68.7%) and banking (59.9%).
Following closely behind were leisure (56.1%) and food shopping (51.7%).
The retail sector on the high street is facing increasing pressure from the internet but the survey shows that only 7.8% log on for online shopping on a daily basis.
More worrying in some ways is the number who shop online once a week (37.7%) and once a month (28.7%).
On the plus side, people who replied to the survey clearly loved the green spaces, the flowers and the architecture, reflecting the town’s history and traditions.
But, there also seemed to be huge approval for the rise of independents in Harrogate.
When asked “do you use the town’s independent shops, bars, cafes and restaurants?” 88.1% said “yes” and 11.9% “no.”
In terms of issues which troubled the public about the current state of Harrogate town centre, the top five worst things identified in the survey ranged from the obvious; empty shops, which was the single most common answer, to, perhaps, something more surprising for the ‘leafy Harrogate’ reputation - drug addicts, begging, scruffy streets and anti-social behaviour.
Quite a few of the 850 replies said Harrogate had too many restaurants already and just as many said there weren’t enough women’s clothes shops.
Although a few readers went as far as to describe the situation as a “ghost town”, the tone of the replies was generally positive.
People came up with a tide of ideas on how to improve things. not one or two ideas or four of five but ideas in their dozens.
Among the most regular replies to our question “what is your one big idea to improve Harrogate town centre?” was one which shows how well-informed the public are on the issues - lower rents for town centre businesses.
Other popular big ideas included the following:
More public events in the town centre.
More independents in the main town centre streets.
Change and improve Victoria Shopping Centre.
Introduce a park and ride scheme.
The public has come up with so many good suggestions on how to make things better, in fact, that there is not enough space to do their replies justice in a single edition.
We welcome your views on the survey so far. Email firstname.lastname@example.org