Today, Dartford Borough Council published an article on its website with the above title:

Britain’s high streets may have had a pretty rough time of late, but Dartford is on the way back up and retailers are reporting big improvements.

New shops are moving in and Dartford’s Town Team reckon that this Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to launch the High Street Revival and fall in love with the towns great range of independent shops and traders.

The day marks the start of a year-long campaign to encourage everyone to shop local and take pride in Dartford’s many small businesses.

Town Team member and manager of the Orchards Shopping Centre, Debbie Carey, said, “Lots of people are very excited about Aldi opening later this year. There’s a buzz about the town and it’s growing.”

Moving the town’s Thursday market to the High Street has made the area busier than ever, with some retailers reporting as much as a 40% growth in trade on market day.

Council Leader Jeremy Kite says, “It’s become fashionable to knock High Streets but Dartford really does have a fantastic selection of traders and new traders are arriving all the time. The truth is that Tesco’s withdrawal from Lowfield Street has made everyone realise that towns don’t need big faceless supermarkets. We’ve always known that our future lies in recognising our great tradition and history of independent shops.  Dartford Revival will see a huge range of promotions, family events and attractions taking place to remind people that Dartford is a great market town.”

Whilst any attempt to promote the traders in the whole of the Borough, not just the town centre should be encouraged and supported, a bit of bunting in the High Street will probably not make a lot of difference.  Perhaps the other initiatives to follow during this year-long campaign may well make a difference, but that remains to be seen.  The track record of the Town Team and Dartford Borough Council’s Policy Overview Task Group On Town Centre Improvements is not very impressive so far.

As far back as 21 March last year, we reported coverage of the Everybody Shops Conference in which DBC’s Managing Director was reported as saying ‘town centres are not just retail hubs, they are community hubs’ and ‘digital screens will be used on Dartford to help improve shopper experience‘.

This was confirmed by DBC and in our article published on 1 April, DBC advised:

Dartford is reducing business rates for certain start-up businesses and offering bursaries to entrepreneurs looking to try out their ideas on stalls in the town’s markets. Two of our bursary recipients have been so successful that they have recently opened ‘bricks & mortar’ shops in the town centre.  Innovative funding solutions was discussed, we believe, also in relation to funding for redevelopment as well as the items already mentioned.

The Town Team are working with Bluewater to offer customer service training through a scheme called ‘Dartford Friendly’. We are hoping that through the scheme, retailers will become real ambassadors for the town – improving customer experience and encouraging loyalty.  Dartford Friendly is currently in its initial phase but we will be promoting it more widely shortly. We’ll keep you in the loop about that. It is happening in the town centre.

The team is also looking to further improve customer experience in the town by installing wi-fi, enabling retailers to offer more services and options such as click & collect.  Digital screens are indeed tied in with the provision of wi-fi in the town centre.

Regarding Dartford Borough Council’s Policy Overview Task Group On Town Centre Improvements, we learnt about this following a meeting in September, when the terms of reference were agreed.  Details of this can be seen in our article on 7 October.  However, when the Policy Overview Committee next met in December, it was confirmed in the draft minutes that  ‘the report on the Town Centre initiatives being progressed by the Town Team was not yet available for review.’  – see our article of 13 January.

From the evidence above, it seems that both the Town Team and Dartford Borough Council have failed to deliver previous pledges; can we hope for any better now?

Before anybody jumps to the conclusion that this is just a bashing of the Conservative controlled Council, I would also point out that Dartford Labour carried out a Town Centre Survey back in August (details and my response were published on 26 August).  To date, I don’t believe that these results have been published.  Perhaps now would be a convenient time for Dartford Labour to reveal their proposals or it may be that we will have to wait until nearer the Borough Elections in May for this.

In conclusion, here are some of the reactions so far, as published on Dartford Living’s Facebook Page:

Not sure how any member of the council has the gall to say “We’ve always known that our future lies in recognising our great tradition and history of independent shops.” having spent 10 years or more sitting on their hands while Tesco ruined the Lowfield Street area by forcing the very retailers he says are the future of the area from the town.

Please people of Dartford vote accordingly in the local elections remember these people have let the town down and are now trying to make up for it with media gestures of rebuilding.   Even that picture has two shops to let!!! Whsmiths, Bon marche, optitions, gregs, phones 4 u (closed) a cheap shoe shop and a newsagent!! Not sure where Mr kite is talking about but that isn’t a great selection of shops if you ask me!! Also the man behind helping Tescos mess the town around is no suddenly all local business, was a different story when they forced the butchers, music madness and other small local shops to close to make way for tescos!!!!!!!!

Noticed all the bunting today. looked very nice and cheerful on a cold winters day. Perhaps next year the council could ask local school children to draw pictures on the bunting.

Love the councils statement seeming they have bowed down to Tesco for the last 10 years. Anyone would think there’s an election coming up…….oh wait…….

Funnily enough 2 months ago I walked through Dartford and realised that I had never seen it so bad.  Betting shops, kebab shops, charity shops, pound shops, pawn shops. I think we know where this is going and it isn’t up.

Can they get that lovely butchers back for a start!!!! Shame they were forced out in the first place . Onwards and upwards Dartford!!!!!  I visit every week. !

Certainly not a good selection of shops – there isn’t even a decent clothes shop unless you are a teenager. 

Dartford died 12 years ago thanks to the council and tesco.  Now it’s time for the council to pull there finger out and repair the damage they have done to our town.

Just because lots of people knock the high street, doesn’t mean it’s fashionable, they do it because the high street is crap.

These press statements are starting to get beyond parody now…

Not even a decent shoe shop in Dartford!!

The sheer audacity of that statement is incredible. Clearly pre election panic.

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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