What makes a town successful? Is it the people, its economy or its community? I would say it is a combination of all three. Barnsley already has a strong sense of identity and community, and I can testify to the sheer resilience and friendliness of its people. So what else can we do to improve our town?
Whilst it’s disappointing the town centre redevelopment plans do not now include some of the original proposals, they do still offer a real opportunity to improve our economy and community for the benefit of all.
It is great to see the inclusion of plans for a public space and a new, state of the art library. As well as this, the proposed £41 million redevelopment will highlight one of our strongest selling points: our markets. I have lost count of the number of people I have met across Yorkshire who identify Barnsley as the market town in the region. For generations, people have travelled here for this unique shopping experience; for some it’s a regular pilgrimage; for others it’s a family tradition. But sadly, it’s one that has been dying out.
Now we have the opportunity to invest in our markets once more, bringing them into the 21st century and helping to better compete in the regional market.
When many people are content to shop online, we need to ensure there is distinctive, enticing offer, drawing them into our town. Every aspect of shopping must be something they want to experience. Barnsley should be able to offer something distinct from the endless, indoor malls of Sheffield’s Meadowhall or Leeds Trinity – a chance to talk to real people; to listen to the chatter and calls of local traders; to see, hear and smell all the genuine elements of a living market. With Sheffield’s Moor market opening recently to favourable attention, there has never been a more pressing time to develop and promote Barnsley’s markets.
Last week a report showed that London has hogged the growth of private sector employment in the last few years. The north is obviously lagging behind – despite what David Cameron may say about economic recovery! With the government blind to what life is like for most working people, it’s up to our local institutions – such as Barnsley Council – to ensure that, not only is money pumped into our town, but it is part of a strong, distinct vision of our town’s future. The town centre redevelopment will be a central part of this.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Independent on 5 February 2014.