A report of the Mayor had been circulated with the agenda.
a) Councillor S Williams referred to the positive news about empty properties contained within the Mayor’s report. He noted it mentioned the Parade and High Street. He asked the Mayor when the focus would shift from the Town Centre to other parts of the town including St Albans Road and Queens Road. He considered it to be important to spread the economy rather than in one area.
The Mayor responded that the aspect of empty properties was dependent on the market. The Council was unable to influence individuals or companies to take an office or shop in St Albans Road. The Council had no means to influence people unless a decision was made to use taxpayers money to grant rate relief to businesses.
The Mayor stated that the investment in the Town Centre had encouraged people to create ventures in that area. This had been the point she had been trying to make in her report.
The Mayor advised Councillors that if there were projects or things they felt could be done in St Albans Road, within the remit of the Council and benefiting traders, she would be willing to listen to ideas. It was important to do things that directly impacted on their trade. She believed that people thought that the Council was able to find tenants for the many properties in St Albans Road. She added that having looked at some of the properties, some of them were in an atrocious state. Significant amounts of money would need to be invested in the properties. She advised that many of the premises were owned by pension companies; the properties being one of many in their portfolio. The companies did not reply to letters from the Council asking what action was being taken with their premises or attempts to improve them.
In closing the Mayor said that where the Council was able to do something it would and the Town Centre was direct evidence of the Council’s work.
b) Councillor Bashir stated that his question related to the new Watford Market. He said that he accepted the old market needed significant investment. He asked the Mayor whether she accepted that the new Watford Market, in respect of traders and patrons, faced significant difficulties. He also sought assurances that the current problems and difficulties were being addressed.
The Mayor commented that she did not fully accept the premise of the Councillor’s question. She acknowledged that change was always unsettling, particularly for people as they got older. She had made a point of visiting the market locality more. She regularly received good and bad views about the market. The idea of the new market was to appeal to new and different people. She accepted that some of the regulars of the old market would find it different.
The Mayor agreed that there had been teething problems and that there were still some matters that needed to be resolved. She asked the Managing Director to provide Members with an update on these matters. She informed Members that there had been an impetus from the traders to move across sooner rather than waiting until a later date. The Mayor added that she had made a point of visiting the traders. There were some traders who were happy with the new market and there were others who were not doing as well as they had hoped they would.
The Mayor commented that there was likely to be a review after Christmas to assess how the new market was progressing. She felt that once all the units were let, a difference would be noticed. People had to get used to the changes and this took time. She added that when the old market moved to Charter Place similar comments had been made in the Watford Observer and in the Council Chamber.
The Mayor summed up by stating that the market had been unable to stay in Charter Place and the Council had taken a chance on the new location. It was acknowledged that not all of the traders would be happy with the new location and some would not stay. The remaining issues would be addressed.
c) Councillor Dhindsa said that his question also related to the market. He had spoken to traders on several occasions. He had met one trader who was happy with the move and others had given him a list of issues. He asked the Mayor whether anyone was consulted about the lift, for example the Disability Group. In addition he enquired why the launch had not taken place within the market rather than outside in The Parade and how much the launch had cost. Traders had felt left out of the launch event.
The Mayor responded that she hoped members would agree that the food on offer in the market was diverse and an excellent quality. It showed a real cosmopolitan Watford at its best. She reported that the lift was DDA compliant. It would not have been possible to install the lift unless it had met the DDA requirements.
In response to the enquiry about the opening, the Mayor advised that Town and Country Markets were only going to have the ‘Wheel of Fortune’. The Council made the decision to invite Rosemary Shrager in order to attract more footfall to that area. Rosemary Shrager had specified her requirements for her demonstrations. During her cookery demonstrations she made the point of telling people about the market, which was next to the demonstration area. She had understood her role for the day. The aim of the day was to get people in to that area. The Mayor said that she was unsure what could have been done in the market with the space available to attract people to the area. The Mayor felt that the event had worked in attracting people. The Mayor asked the Managing Director to provide Members with details of the launch costs. She felt that because the Council had wanted the grand opening to be a success and it mattered to the traders, it was money well spent. It had given a buzz to the day and people enjoyed it. The town had received a lot of national publicity in a positive way. It gave the right impression of Watford. There were numerous retweets on the day from people, including Mary Portas. The Mayor considered it to have been worth every penny.
d) Councillor Bell said that the Mayor often commented that Farm Terrace Allotments were vital for the Health Campus. He asked, if the Council were unable to include the allotments in the scheme, would the development still go ahead.
The Mayor noted that Council would have a debate on this matter later as there was a motion on the agenda. She said she was sure the Councillor knew the answer to his question. The inclusion of the allotments gave additional benefits to the whole of the scheme. It made it more financially viable and in the future a Mayor would be standing in the Council Chamber thanking this Council for its decision on the Health Campus. The taxpayers would also thank the Council, especially as things became harder financially. The people who lived in the houses would feel the benefit of the public open space and the quality of the surrounding environment. Once the hospital’s clinical strategy is announced next year, the hospital and anyone associated with it would feel the benefit. The Mayor said that she did not want to even consider going ahead with the scheme, without the allotments included, as the impact would be too great to contemplate.
e) Councillor Turmaine commented that he had noted the announcement of occupancy rates in the Town Centre. He asked if Members could have details of the companies that would be moving into the High Street, ensuring they were not a further succession of pound shops, pay day lenders and betting shops.
The Mayor reported that the Town Centre Manage had compiled a list and it would be circulated to Members. She said that it was wrong to give the public the impression that the Council could control who occupied premises. If the new occupier was within the relevant planning class for the premises the Council would be unable to restrict the type of occupant moving into the property. The Council was able to restrict clusters of betting shops due to powers granted to it by central government; this was included in the Local Plan. Change of use was more beneficial to the owner than the Council. When questioned by the public she often posed the question whether they would prefer an empty shop or occupied possibly by another take-away. The common response was that they did not want another take-away but neither did they want an empty shop. The Mayor agreed that she would not want to see a proliferation of the types of shops outlined by Councillor Turmaine.
f) Councillor Mills asked the Mayor, following the results of the judicial review of Farm Terrace Allotments, if the list for plot holders would be reopened enabling people to use the plots. If the list were not to be opened she asked for further explanation.
The Mayor said that the list would not be reopened. It would be a foolish move as the Council would be resubmitting its application to the Secretary of State. In addition that area would become a building site in the next 12 months. The area would be fenced off. The allotments were within an area that would be a major regeneration site. There would be heavy goods vehicles moving around. The new road would be in the process of being built. The road would be running close by the end of the allotments. The Mayor commented that she would not want to suggest that this was the right place to have an allotment. The site would not be the same as the current allotment holders enjoy.
g) Councillor Mehta stated that she wanted the new Watford Market to be a success, but believed it to be fitted with an inadequate staircase and lift. This was denying people access to the upper floor. She had noted that a new lift was on order but it was similar to the current one. In addition she asked whether adequate screening and heating was to be installed on the first floor.
The Mayor suggested that a full update was circulated to all Members. She thanked everyone for their concerns and their desires for the market to be the best it could be.