Market towns in danger of being 'bland'

SMALL market towns are in danger of losing their character and distinctiveness, a major new report warns today. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which released the report, claims that market towns are being swamped by a spreading wave of blandness.

SMALL market towns are in danger of losing their character and distinctiveness, a major new report warns today.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which released the report, claims that market towns are being swamped by a spreading wave of blandness.

It will make worrying reading for many in East Anglia, which is famed for its attractive and supposedly unique towns.

The report comes after the CPRE carried out a seven-month 'health-check' survey on more than 100 market towns across England, including several in Suffolk and Essex.


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The survey found many to be threatened by bland and uniform new development, creating serious traffic congestion and stretching services to the limit.

Others are in danger of becoming little more than dormitories, with new housing developments only serving to increase the number of people commuting to work outside the area.

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And many have been hit by large superstore developments out of town or in big neighbouring towns, sucking life from their high streets.

The survey identified the failure of new buildings to incorporate local materials or styles, and the fact that shops tend not to sell anything local, as important contributors to the growing malaise.

Tom Oliver, CPRE's Head of Rural Policy, said: “Many of our market towns do not have the capacity to cope with major new development.

“Towns are also suffering badly from development which damages their individual character, is insensitively sited, or which threatens local business.”

A statement added: “CPRE argues that this erosion of character and attractiveness matters – and not just to the millions of people who live and work in these small towns.

“Our distinctive market towns are part of the lifeblood of the English countryside. They help attract visitors from home and overseas, and contribute to rural prosperity.”

Keith Myers-Hewitt, a Stowmarket town councillor for two years, said he agreed with the CPRE's damning report.

He added: “Since the town has been part-pedestrianised it has greatly gone down hill and it's stagnating.

“If you compare us to Needham Market there's a big difference - and the difference is that that they've got parking in the streets, which is what people want.

“Shops have gone and we've lost our services. The list of things that we need is endless, but there's no-one coming into the town to provide them.

“The town is dying and it's very sad.”

The CPRE is calling for local authorities to act quickly to reverse the trend, through well-thought out planning and retail choices and a well-conserved heritage.

Highlighting Maldon in Essex as a success story, the report adds: “Key ingredients of their success include community spirit and civic pride, local markets, events and festivals and good planning.”

Anthony Hubbard, chairman of the Woodbridge Society, said he agreed with elements of the CPRE's warning.

He added: “I think this certainly is a danger, without a doubt, mainly because we are now driven by the big companies and the big chains so there is a certain sameness about things, even reaching into market towns.

“We are now much more profit orientated than we used to be, and I think this is being reflected in the way that market towns are developing - but I would like to think that Woodbridge can overcome that.

“Perhaps the report is a bit of an over reaction because certainly the smaller towns do still attract the small outfits which is what people come for on the commercial side of things.

“And they do still retain their charm in terms of the buildings and general structure. I would like to think that a certain amount of the country town aura is still there.”

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