Saturday, 28 April 2012

Warwick Rocks...the post Portas buzzword.

Warwick Portas Pilots.

Well the dust has settled, and you would think it's all been quiet in Warwick since the YouTube video was posted and we submitted our proposal to the Portas committee. You'd be wrong if you did, because Warwick has been far from quiet.

Over 370 towns have submitted a proposal for the Portas Pilot scheme. Presented on YouTube we have watched many of them. There are some great ideas out there, and of course some are similar to ours. So what makes Warwick stand out, and why choose Warwick to be a Pilot Town?

The success of any community project is down to the energy and commitment of its people, and within such a small space of time Warwick proved it has that in abundance.
Walk around Warwick today and you can visually see the mark the Portas Pilot project has left on the town. #WarwickRocks, once just a Twitter hashtag amongst friends, has become a poster campaign showing support for the Portas movement. Hatton & Harding, local bakeries, sports shops, the racecourse, local hotel and church, Underwood Wines van and even Caffe Nero have put a Warwick Rocks poster in their window, uniting the town. Very cleverly the designer and printer Liquid Blu and Ginger the art of Print only allowed red, blue and white to be used, making them perfect for jubilee celebrations. They're here to stay, just like our new-found enthusiasm and newly-formed Town Team.

The media train hasn't stopped either. The success of the community story and Warwick Rocks campaign has received attention from local media and businesses. As I help to run WarwickTweetup, local businesses and the media contact me for help or stories on local issues, but Warwick Rocks has been incredible. This month we are featured in Warwickshire Life magazine, and next month we will be in a new magazine called Edge. I'm also in talks with a new magazine who contacted me to offer help to local businesses totally on the back of the Warwick Rocks poster campaign. We've had interest in the idea of a town mobile App from a local developer, and many new people have joined Twitter and attended Twitter School to keep up with the super fast grapevine, so we have the makings of a great follow up campaign.

The great thing about Warwick's efforts on this Pilot proposal are that everything is open. It's live on Twitter, Facebook, this blog and others too. We completely share what we are thinking and doing. Communication is so key to the success of any community, and this has been proven with the movement in Warwick. The campaign has forged new contacts, and we have more information fed to us from new areas - this is a brilliant step forward. Win or lose this Pilot, we have already won so much for our town in terms of brilliant relationships and our fabulous Town Team.

Unfortunately there has been a set-back this week. Disaster struck in the form of traffic. Bad traffic - the enemy of our medieval town, which was never designed for the motor vehicle. Before Easter, roadworks began, designed to improve the pedestrian experience and slow the high street traffic down. Views are split on the works, and obviously nobody likes sitting in queues. The car is our way to get freedom, and when something stops that from happening it angers us. There was disruption before this week, but the return of the school traffic after the Easer break added to the rainy weather forced many more cars into Warwick's road system. More people drove than walked or cycled as the weather was so poor.

Something had to give. Bursting at the seams, Warwick's morning queues spilled onto the neighbouring bypass and motorway, network causing the A46 and M40 to halt. That was the final straw. Once you upset the bigger road network, something simply has to be done - and fast. The decision to stop northbound traffic on The Butts was taken. The give way system at the top of the Butts (due to the very narrow entrance) meant that by making it one way, incoming traffic flowed better. Although at first this confused and surprised motorists, it did alleviate the problem on the A46 and M40. The Highways Agency had spoken, and poor Warwick suffered.

What we have to remember is this: the works being carried out are to make the high street more pedestrian friendly and safe for the walking trade. The Portas 28 recommendations include:

"Town Teams should focus on making high streets accessible, attractive and safe."

The works were already planned, but at least they are for the future good of the town and not going against what we are trying to achieve with the Portas Pilot...despite the immediate disruption to the town. Bad timing? Well, I guess it depends which way you look at it - or indeed how you spin it!

One thing's for sure, Warwick is certainly vocal and that's great. If it wasn't, it would mean we didn't care. Warwick Rocks even when it's blocked! Let's hope that the works and the disruption leave us with a safer place for visitors, and encourage more people into our wonderful town.

What do you think about the works in Warwick? Will the final product be worth the pain? Comments welcomed and indeed passed on to those who care.

Thanks for reading;
Todd @UnderwoodWines & @WarwickTweetup


  1. Please tell us what you think of the current traffic and road works in Warwick...

  2. A great blog, and very fair considering the amount of time you've spent in traffic this week! I must admit I'm FOR the changes being made along High Street and Jury Street - I thought the Mary Portas thing was all about improving High Streets and making towns more accessible for people, and that's exactly what these works will do. What I'm unhappy about is the timing - it had been agreed to carry the works out in January, but it seems WCC didn't get their act together with the contractors in time. So what should have been done and dusted by Easter actually started the day after the Easter bank holiday, just when the tourist season starts for a lot of businesses in Warwick. Trade at Thomas Oken Tea Rooms was down MASSIVELY last weekend and again this weekend (the weather didn't help) - I'm just staying optimistic that it'll all be worth it in the long run!

    1. Totally agree. Bad timing and seemingly badly managed. The major road networks taking priority over our town and causing more traffic has been catastrophic this weekend

  3. Let me get this right, I was born in Warwick and lived there for a large part of my life, well 25 years of it anyway.

    The High St, and Jury St. have always been 'safe', 'attractive' and 'accessible' with wide enough pavements for everyone. I don't know there was ever actually a problem, unless it was an especially 'manufactured' one of course.

    Am I now being told that No No No, the pavements need to be much much wider. Does 'accessible, attractive and safe' means yet more pedestrianisation.

    When they did this some years back in Cheltenham the roads were wide enough in the first place so that traffic and pedestrian could coexist quite nicely together and yes it works well, in fact very well.

    Warwick however is a medieval market town with historically narrow streets in the first place. Surely if we make them even narrower, what will actually happen is that traffic will move even more slowly than it does at present.

    Think of it a bit like a heart attack waiting to happen if you narrow the arteries then eventually the heart will just grind to a halt - This is a good analogue of what happens if you start narrowing too many streets in a town.

    I hope they're not going to narrow the main streets through the town, it just gives me another reason to NOT shop there as often as I would like to do so.

    It looks like they are trying to do a Cheltenham or Leamington effort with Warwick, which in theory is nice but the two towns are completely different in structure.

    1. I'm not sure the road is going to be narrowed majorly John. The Town of Warwck does have a weight limit of 7.5tonne (although not inforced) and in theory the street is more than wide enough with the 'improvements' having driven a van myself through this morning.

      I like most don't really think the street needed slowing down but it does feel safer as a pedestrian...whether that will improve trade is another matter of course'


  4. ADDENDUM by John W.

    Using the other extreme as an example...

    Oxford, cannot be driven into, you have to use public transport.

    Yes it's medieval and yes there is an excellent bus service.

    The shops and main high st approaching from Summerhill (OX2) end are also very busy.

    The one major difference is that Oxford has a ring road that links the A34, M40 and A40 thus ensuring those wanting to shop in oxford can park on the outside of town, whilst those passing are encouraged use the ring road to get to London

    Warwick has not got a ring road though so squeezing the traffic through the town without improving public transport is going to put people off wanting to visit.

  5. The traffic situation is annoying, but what is more annoying is that it all feels so depressingly pointless. Do we actually need speed humps and a slalom course along High Street? It's certainly not top of my list - especially at a time when we hear that councils are facing cutbacks.

    We'd better get used to the crawling traffic *for good*, although it may ease up as more and more people decide to avoid it and shop elsewhere.

    I hope I'm wrong.

  6. Hi Nick.

    I must admit I kind of agree. The final product is slightly blurred by the terrible traffic at the moment. I did cross the other night by the Lord Leycester Hospital and I did feel safer and weirdly welcomed to cross. I did cross to test this I just found myself thinking it.

    I think if you imagine where the Castle is in respect to the Market and the main shops on High st and Jury st it does have some benefits. Getting people across and making them feel they should must be good.

    The money spent is worrying though, especially the effort to get £100,000 from the Portas proposal. Time will tell I just feel for the traders suffering from low footfall as people stay away.


  7. I have spoken to several business owners on out little street this week, and for most it has been very quiet. Here at Pancho we carry on regardless, usually working on bookings we don't notice the weather, the state of the traffic etc. We have noticed way less walk-in trade, as has much of Warwick during April. Might be a coincidence, hardly seems likely.
    Thankfully due to our hours I don't see much of the insane traffic, but we do hear a LOT of customers talk about it, and I can honestly say for the most part people are p'ed off. "Lack of planning", "standard council ineptitude" are the most commonly used phrases. (For the record anyone at the council reading this, these are not my words. I have learnt to keep those to myself)
    It does seem the consensus appears to be that if we are to endure this ongoing "improvement" to the town, and businesses are losing money/trade, that this should in someway be reflected in a rates reduction. There are a lot of angry, disillusioned and downright fed up people working their Hind-Ds of in this town, and more and more obstructions and disruptions crop up almost daily. Giving a little something back might just help to appease them.
    Meanwhile, back in the real world, it's raining, there are no people on Smith St, we are hardly likely to see anyone tonight, I'm going home with a couple of bottles of wine, and a huge supper.

  8. Hi Todd

    You might have already see this but I found these before and after artist impressions. I don't know if they were displayed in the town, I googled them


  9. Thanks John, yes they were in the Courier back in November.

  10. "....I'm not sure the road is going to be narrowed majorly John...."

    Okay Todd, perhaps you're right and yes perhaps you 'feel safer' crossing the road. The point I was making is i'm not sure there was ever a problem in the first place, with High St and Jury St.

    Certainly in my 25 years living in Warwick I did not feel 'unsafe' crossing the road. I was a member of 'The Tufty Club' which taught kids road sense though.

    My question is therefore Whose 'perception of a problem' decided that this road had suddenly become so very very unsafe and dangerous, like the M1, that we need 'speed bumps' and a slalom to negotiate it safely.

    Most people are clever enough to look both ways when they cross the road without a problem. Mr Darwin and his theory of Evolution has taught us that !

    My other question is why do the people responsible for highway maintenance charge the councils so much for these concrete edifices, that we all love to hate.

    The phrase 'Jobs for the boys' is seems apparent here, whether we like it or not !

    If I wanted to install speed bumps and a slalom course on my drive, B & Q would not charge me as much as the councils get charged.

    Why is it that when I replace a paving slab it's a few quid but when the council do the same it's sometimes many hundreds of pounds ?

    Just a few thoughts....

  11. Do you know want to know what really gets my goat up about all of this?
    It ain't the traffic jams, not the roadworks, definatley not the construction workers, at least they've a job and aren't claiming benefits, Well I hope not.
    It's the contempt at which the planners & councillors appear to demonstrate to the business rate payers of Warwick.

    They talk about partnerships and working relationships but at the end of the day they're going to do what they want with the knowledge that none of the business community can cast a vote against them at local elections. We have no real voice, A voice that can actually count.

    I got in touch with our local MP Chris White over the traffic diversions & closures that happened last week. He to was astonished at the closure of the Butts, and true to his word he made enquires and has passed on the answer to his questions.
    In my opinion most of it seems to be "spin" from the councillor, giving all the right answers. However, after checking with a number of business owners, I have to question the accuracy of one of his answers:

    "The officers involved are in regular contact with the press and radio and have given interviews and issued press releases. The website is update very regularly with progress and businesses are being regularly visited".

    Well Councillor Butlin, No one has been into my shop or my immediate neighbours or many other business's within the town. Where are they?

    We need to get see them on the streets visiting shops and business, assessing the impact and DISCUSSING the issues of the current alleged "improvements"

    Here's another comment from Councillor Butlin:

    "We are investigating ways in which we can promote the towns businesses after the works are complete".
    Why doesn't he come and investigate here and now, with us the taxpayers? Let him come now and enter dialogue with all parties to get the town back on its feet as soon as the works are finished? Once the "Plan" has been decided, let the people who really care about this town implement the ideas. No more time can be wasted while councillors & planners pass endless memos to each other before they decide what to do.

    My final word; WCC, WDC, Parish Council, Warwick Society, Smith St Traders, Chamber of Trade.. Communicate. It's not to late.

    PS. how would you have spent the £610,000.00 (alleged) in Warwick?