Managing Wolverhampton Town Centre

Ken Mackie is the Town Centre Manager to the Wolverhampton Metropolitan Borough council. He was appointed in 1991 as the eighth town manager in the country, now there are three hundred! The concept of town management is American, where shopping malls developed round a city space occupied by offices, with no residents; housing was built beyond the malls leading to what he termed a "doughnut effect". In our country similar out-of-town shopping centres arrived at Merryhill, Meadowhall and Gateshead during the eighties, a time of recession and crime, when town centres suffered greatly. In a place like Merryhill, the centre management have absolute control over everything which goes on there. A place like Wolverhampton couldn't do this until the various bodies operating there could be drawn together and managed.

There are four elements to be controlled: Janitorial concerned with cleanliness, lighting, street furniture and gardening; Promotional dealing with the media, advertising, special activities, and tourism; Development - as businesses come in the movement into, round and out of the place is designed, and the pattern of the day is established for opening, closing and consideration of expansion and diversification; Partnership is the fourth element, because so many factors are involved in setting up an organisation that works. Councils, the private sector, the churches, the tourist organisations, bus companies, railway providers all have a part to play in the provision of an attractive, comfortable, safe, convenient place to visit.

On the subject of pedestrianisation, Ken Mackie had one answer; it works if it is operated fully and given time to prove itself. Traffic free towns are the future. He believes that semi-pedestrianisation is the worst of all worlds.

We were shown some very revealing slides to illustrate the points made about clutter and inconvenience, lack of security, dearth of entertainment and generally dreary surroundings which preceded the New Look of today. Now there are railways stations, a metroline, a good bus service, trees, flower beds, effective lighting, a restored churchyard, a police team controlled CCTV and a retail crime initiative using radios, late night buses, trained security staff, an entertainment quarter, theatre, racecourse, football stadium, investment by Beatties, a street market, a flourishing Civic Hall and an urban village and market square. It is a good trading environment a very pleasant place to visit and a great future seems assured.

Town Centre Management, by getting folk round tables in order to improve things certainly has worked in Wolverhampton. Of course Lichfield is a very different place - but some basic principles should surely apply.

Brenda Towlson
February 2000