Here’s a thought for Northampton. Knock down the bus station, adjacent car parks, and as much of the area around it as you can. Even perhaps the Grosvenor Centre. Build a huge subterranean, multi-storey car park and turn the top of it into a large square and park area. The car park itself should be well lit and have some architectural detailing to make it look attractive. Arrange bus stops and shelters along one side, but only allow buses and taxis there.
Install fountains, a children’s play area and flower beds. Make it look really nice. Around this new, large square, build some office blocks and maybe even some posh, serviced apartments as well as more retail space. One or two restaurants (not fast food) could be on the ground floor overlooking the new square. Make sure there are retail units large enough to attract some of the majors, preferably large enough to compete with Milton Keynes. This is essential if you are to bring shoppers back to the centre of town. Lifts from the shops to the car park would help shoppers load their purchases. Deliveries to shops could be either from behind or, better still an underground delivery area (like the Bullring in Birmingham, but less brutal).
If you want to get an idea of what it could be like, visit Niort, in France. It has a population of about 60,000 and a bit, with 137, 000 or so in the urban area, so it’s not dissimilar to Northampton in size. The picture above is from a poster - construction is still going on, but it’s nearly complete. The car park is complete, some of the grass gas been laid, the seats and children’s play area are there. It should be complete very soon. Oh, and the odd looking structure in the middle of the left hand side is the entrance to a cinema, also underground. I saw something very similar in Perpignan. The idea is not uncommon in France.
It’s about time we developed a vision of our own for the town, not having to rely on proposals from property developers and consultants.
Having said all that, I don’t want to denigrate the planned enterprise zone, but it only addresses half the problem.
Of course the town centre redevelopment would be expensive, and it may be necessary to subsidise the rent of some of the offices and shops to attract the right sort of tenants. I know we have too many empty retail premises right now, but that may not always be so. On the plus side, the cost of borrowing is so cheap that now’s the time to do it. But something on this scale needs to be done to prevent the town from becoming a complete dump.
Footnote: Since writing this in September, I have been told that the ground under the Bus Station is pretty much rock. This means that it is difficult to excavate space for a car park, But surely that's not really a problem - just build a solid platform on top of a car park and cover it with a garden. Voila!