TOWN centres are not what they used to be and are unlikely to ever return to their former glories.
Cities tend to reinvent themselves and, due in part to their infrastructures, can rebuild after an economic downturn.
When the factories, mines, steelworks and docks closed in the ‘80s and cities — in some cases deliberately — were left to rot, who would have thought Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds or Belfast would have ever again hit the heights of a few years ago?
There’s a new crisis now though with high street giants closing their doors and leaving gaping holes in the shopping malls once touted as the long-term future of consumerism.
Sheffield is starting to look scruffy, the streets unkempt, shops boarded up.
It will, at some point, in some way, recover though, as will the other aforementioned cities, all of who will find a way to generate new business.
What of our towns though? Towns such as Keighley, Mexborough, Wath and Rotherham.
A visit to any of these places and many more will tell you that due to changing trends and colossal policy errors at local and central government levels they are unlikely to sport streets paved with anything like gold any time soon.
Growing up near Keighley, I remember the main street and the Arndale — this was in the days before shopping centres were called malls — full of great shops selling records, books, toys, clothes, arts and crafts. They were busy too. You could get anything you wanted and plenty more that you didn’t with no need to travel to Bradford or Leeds. That was for special occasions.
It would have been the same here too. People tell me it was and I’ve seen the pictures.
There were big employers in towns back then and that meant people had money to spend in the shops, pubs and clubs, each close-knit community having its own self-sufficient micro-economy.
That’s not the case now and probably never will be again.
As a kid I remember the tramps living under the multi-storey car park fly-over in Keighley. Proper tramps with big beards, drinking meths. Just occasionally, but very rarely, they would ask you for a few pence to buy a cup of tea — or bottle of meths.
These days towns are full of modern-day (non-meths drinking) equivalents and a wander round can see you asked for money on multiple occasions, rows, fights, people shouting and screaming all around you.
Everything’s closed you see, and not just the shops, mills, mines etc. The support services have gone, with successive governments slashing council budgets and local authorities, still mired in dated bureaucracy, cutting, as is always the case, from the bottom up.
A whole swathe of people now have nowhere to go, nothing to do and no money and nobody to do it with even if they did.
So they come here, ask for cash, buy a few drinks, let off steam and cause problems. But what are their options? Go somewhere else and do the same?
The old-fashioned tramps didn’t do that. They were different. But so were our towns.