Tonight saw a packed house over at the newly refurbished and regenerated Mitchell Arts Centre comprising of people from all over the North of Staffordshire's business people, community groups, activists, local politics and the media for a evening lecture given the former Lord Mayor, Mike Wolfe.
The aim of the lecture was to lay down a raft of ideas outlining how Stoke-on-Trent could become a place considered by people in and out of the city as a place to live, shop and do business,
The main premise for the lecture was based around a hyperthetical new public square in Hanley (a metaphore for how things should be done) or to be politically correct Stoke-on-Trent City Centre, in which a number of buildings have disappeared and replacing them is a tarmaced area created on the cheap as a functional meeting place, surrounded by buildings of old such as webberleys and the tontine building.
This hypothetical square is named after a popular hero and son of Stoke-on-Trent, Stanley Square. The square is to become the heart and soul of Stoke-on-Trent, where all attention is lavished. He tells the audience that Stoke-on-Trent is one City, not 6 and refuses to name the parts of the city that make it up, the towns.
The whole lecture is a premise to dispense with the notion of towns and give Hanley Stoke-on-Trent City Centre our all.
Everything is brought closer to the City Centre. For example Wolfe suggested rather than the University Quarter being miles out of town City Centre, the university is brought closer to the heart of the commerce centre fueling further growth. A credible premise after it was revealed in a survey of final year Students at Staffordshire Universities Stoke-on-Trent students revealed that only 20% had ever been into the city citing reasons such as not feeling safe.
Wolfe speaks about the council not wasting millions on extravagant schemes that will see no cash value such as a over priced bus station, but instead a more considered and toned down design for the bus station.
Not to spend £300,000,000 on creating another shopping centre in Hanley to compete the high street shops and Potteries Shopping Centre, but to spend a fraction modernising the old precinct and reusing rather than wasting a vast amount of money.
Mike Wolfe makes a good point that people from Manchester flee the city for Chester to shop not in gigantic shopping malls but to shop in the unique and unusual shops that Chester offers. Every town has the same big stores but Stoke’s shops could offer something different.
The lecture touched upon Mikes view that the population of Stoke-on-Trent is not big enough and needs an extra 50,000 people to make shops reach critical mass. He gives the example of any shop opening will either die quickly or do very well. But the ones that do well, do so at the expense of a existing shop selling a similar stock because of the lack of shoppers.
The council come under heavy fire in regards to not bending over backwards to attract business, not offering pepper corn rates to areas that need more shops, to listening to businesses and rolling out the red carpet to them.
Wolfe also speaks about opening up Stoke-on-Trent to larger immigrants as a way of attracting those 50,000 extra bodies to sustain the cities shops and businesses. I think his thoughts were purely on foreign workers, but is he missing a beat here. Should we also be looking at enticing people from the north and south as well. Lets face it, if you can sell your 3 bed room semi in London for ¾ of a million, then chances are you can lead a pretty good life up in Stoke, and before everyone says it, it’s not Beirut, the area has just had some down sizing.
The council’s marketing department come in for criticism as he thinks the City isn’t marketed well to potential shoppers, tourists but most of all not enough work is being done to attract big businesses suggesting any business with a regional office in Birmingham or Manchester comes to Stoke to enjoy far cheaper rates, he talks about lobbying blue chip and foreign business a thing he claims isn’t being done to bring them into the area.
But most of all, Wolfe is calling for a major perception change which has happened to Wigan, which used to be known as the Joke City.
During the Q&A session Mike Wolfe and the majority of the audience show disapproval of the failure of the Regeneration. Wolfe says the only winners of the Pathfinder project are the architects and planners with neither people nor business being the winner. One gentlemen compared Regen as a episode of Bulls Eye saying “this is what you could have won”.
Key to all of this, like every failing city in the North, this city needs jobs. Part of the re-invention is to let people know we do pottery, but we also have a very hard working and loyal work force who can turn their hands to new skills.
One venture Mike talked about was making Stoke-on-Trent a centre of excellence for pre-fabricated building. There is plenty of land to accomplish this, decent road infrastructure (I did want to yell out at that point there’s the dormant blue planet building down the road on the out skirts of Tunstall). Do what we are good at, like other towns have been good at and specialising in industries that will raise us above the rest. The government has spoke long and hard about the shortage of housing and worried about the solution. Mike Wolfe hopes he has given it to them. It’s something we can do much more cheaply.
Sharing costs of local authorities was another topic Mike Strayed into, with the suggestion that we partner more closely with Newcastle Under Lyme Borough Council, to create a confederated North Staffordshire Council.
He speaks of the A500 has divided the north, leading to two expensively run councils rather than one. Wolfe also heavily criticises Staffordshire County Council for being a rural council and not a urban council and for their lack of co-operation in the north, and suggests that Stoke-on-Trent cuts all ties with SCC.
So should the future of Stoke-on-Trent be based around just one focal point rather than 6 towns? If so what will happen to those 6 towns, it’s businesses, it’s workers and what’s left of their amenities?
Do you own a business in a town? Would you move that business out of the town and to the city centre?
Mike Wolfe raises a lot good points, some damaging points, and some unavoidable points.
Mike Wolfe also cites Tristram Hunt MP as the next Labour Leader. Watch this space hey, does the city have that long?
Anyway, I digress, I not Journalist so I’ve leave this sloppy overview here and let your comments about your futures for the city flow.
Video filmed by the Sentinel.