Dartford Borough Council’s Policy Overview Committee met on 2 September and one of the items on the agenda was Policy Overview Task Group on Town Centre Improvements.  This meeting was asked specifically to agree the Terms of Reference for the Town Centre Task Group.

As background, the Policy Overview Committee had offered to contribute to the Council’s ongoing work to improve the Town Centre as part of its remit to consider and investigate broad policy issues.  The Committee had undertaken to establish a Task Group to explore a number of initiatives being undertaken by town centres around the UK, consider whether they have contributed towards any improvements in those towns and decide whether they might improve the viability of Dartford’s Town Centre.

The specific Terms of Reference to be considered were:

  • To support the work of the Town Team and the Town Centre and Business Support Manager.
  • To consider a number of specific initiatives and actions taken by other Town Centres and assess whether they have contributed towards improved economic activity or otherwise created benefits to those Town Centres.
  • To consider whether these initiatives might be usefully implemented in Dartford Town Centre and recommended to the Town Team.

It was considered vital that the group did not duplicate the diverse and important work being delivered by the Town Team – a successful partnership between the Council, retailers and other town stakeholders – nor divert resources away from the key actions being taken to deliver improvement in the Town Centre.

Nevertheless, there were a number of areas identified by the Town Team as worthy of consideration that it did not currently have the capacity to research and examine.  It was suggested that the Task Group would have a useful role to play in looking at specific areas identified by the Town Team and feedback their findings in the form of a report to the Policy and Overview Committee and Dartford Town Team.

Members would be invited to explore a number of initiatives underway in other Town Centres and explore some of the pressures bearing down upon centres nationally.  Suggested areas of research would be:

  • The value of town centre loyalty schemes e.g. examples of towns that use loyalty rewards to increase footfall and transaction value, and examples of the different types of schemes available, from show cards to full digital solutions that are linked to the internet with a view to considering the scope for implementation in Dartford Town Centre.
  • Explore how large multiple retailers are working collaboratively with Town Teams and Town Centre Managers to boost town centres for the wider good, identify the contribution that larger and better resourced retailers can make to improving trading conditions for all traders (including independents) within a centre, and review those areas of good practice that are relevant to Dartford and reflect on their suitability/application in practice.

The draft minutes have been published on DBC’s website on 6 October and these indicate that the Terms of Reference for the Town Centre Task Group, were agreed and that a review of the report on the initiatives being progressed by the Town Team be scheduled following its publication.

Some of the points that it appears were discussed included:

  • The Chairman explained that the areas of research outlined in the Terms of Reference had been aligned with the work already being carried out by the Town Team.  He said that the Town Team had asked that these areas be investigated first because they had been unable to carry out investigations themselves due to current workloads.
  • Members also recognised that it was important that the Task Group’s work should not duplicate work already being progressed by the Town Team and referred to a report that was being prepared to describe the initiatives that were already underway.  They suggested that consideration should be given to this report before deciding whether to investigate other areas.  The Chairman agreed that this report should be made available and explained how he would act as the link between the Task Group and the Town Team to ensure that there was no duplication of effort.  He said that the Group would operate as a Member-only Task Group and said that he envisaged that group members would be specifically assigned to work on one of the three task areas defined.
  • A number of Members expressed concern at the fact that the areas of work had been pre-defined and felt that they should be given the opportunity to identify additional areas for investigation and set their own goals.  It was also noted that the Terms of Reference identified these as the ‘first’ areas for consideration, which implied that further areas could be put forward for consideration once investigation of these areas had been completed.  The Chairman said that it was important to address these areas first because the results of their investigations would be of particular interest to the Town Team.

Editorial: My reaction to the Task Group on Town Centre Improvements

This is a subject we have covered in several past articles most recently on 4 September A new ‘Town Centre Task Group’ for Dartford.  For the purpose of this article, I will not be including any comments on the redevelopment of Lowfield Street; at present it is probably beyond anybody in Dartford’s control.

Having now seen the draft minutes, these seem to me to have thrown up more questions than answers:-

  • Why did it take over a month for these draft minutes to be made public?
  • Why has it been decided now that the Town Centre Team need assistance from elected representatives?
  • Why does the Town Team not currently have the capacity to research and examine some items that are worthy of consideration?
  • What have the Town Team been doing about the initiatives involving free wifi, innovative funding and digital signage mentioned at the Everybody Shops Conference in March and covered in our updates of 21 March and 1 April?
  • Will the new Task Group hold any separate meetings (in public or in camera) or just report back to the Policy Overview Committee who only meet quarterly – next meeting scheduled for 16 December (hopefully no members will be booking Christmas celebrations for that day)?  There will only be two more scheduled meetings of this Committee between now and the next Borough elections.
  • Has the report from The Town Centre Team already been published and circulated to Task Group members?  If so, will this also be made public between now and the next Policy Overview Committee meeting?
  • Why has there been no input requested from residents/shoppers?  Presumably retailers and traders already give feedback through the Town Centre Team.

As suggested in our post of 4 September, we will continue to monitor the progress of the group.

About the author

Andy Clark is retired after a long career at Lloyds Register and subsequently the Civil Service. He has lived in Dartford for his entire life.

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