It was published in January 2016 for CWaC and Neston Town Council, funded by them and by Sainsbury’s S106 money.
A section of the report is below:
5.2 Neston, from a socio-economic and town centre perspective performs less well than some local comparator towns (such as Hoylake and Heswall) and more broadly to other rural towns in Cheshire West. This is in part due to the more industrial history of the town and its resulting character, socio-economic profile and wider image. Parts of towns are relatively affluent, whilst others are relatively deprived. However neither ‘extremes’ are exceptional in terms of Cheshire West as a whole (although the relative deprivation is notable in terms of rural Cheshire West).
5.3 Consultations have raised concerns over how Neston ‘fits’ strategically with the surrounding area and how this is then reflected in spending priorities, marketing and so on. However it is considered that regardless of administrative and public transport boundaries Neston will always remain a place that needs to find its own identity and have strong economic, marketing, transport and community links across borders, and notably with Wirral. As such it will benefit from alliances with partners from different administrative areas. This should be considered a positive and be used to underline the importance and thrust of local identity, governance and partnership.
5.4 As part of this approach Neston (and Parkgate) need to have a clear self-image and an aligned vision shared across the community, with greater prominence given to Parkgate – the ‘attack’ brand in terms of the important visitor economy.
5.5 Public transport places Neston at a disadvantage compared to some other towns in the area in terms of travel times, realiability and cost which is considered by some consultees to be adversely impacting on access to employment, leisure and other facilities inevitably located in the larger centres. What is clear is that an improved service would increase the potential for workers and consumers alike to make more sustainable travel choices (contributing to reduced traffic, improved air quality and perhaps greater utilisation of Neston Station and thereby potentially the town centre). Similarly it would make Neston a more attractive prospect for new and existing residents including younger families for whom public transport connectivity and the daily commute are key location considerations.
5.6 Similarly the town centre itself is performing reasonably well, not least given the challenges that face most smaller centres. However again there is a clear potential for improvements to the benefit of the local economy and community life. It provides a solid base of convenience retail to which could be added more a distinctive higher quality retail and leisure offer tapping into the relative affluence of the wider area.5.7 A number of individuals and local groups clearly recognise the potential of Neston. This view is aligned to a strong community spirit and identity. A range of ideas and projects have been developed over the recent past and the general theme of these is carried forward into the Economic Plan Action Plan. However notwithstanding the consistent commitment of individuals and groups a recurring theme is that in general terms, sound projects start, have a period of success and then for a range of reasons ’peter out’. Culmulatively this leads to a sense of disillusionment and a perception that ‘it’s been tried before and didn’t work’. In most cases the actual position was that it was a good idea but it did not get enough momentum. The town centre public realm works are perhaps the key physical manifestation of this trait – the works done are good but do not really go far enough.
5.8 Going forward refreshed and enhanced governance arrangements will need to take on the role of championing and driving forward a focussed series of sustained projects. The Town Council, still only six years old, can have a key role to play in this whilst the continued commitment of Cheshire West and Chester Council is important.
5.9 Overall then the challenge for Neston and the Economic Plan is not to address areas of fundamental need but rather to tap into substantial potential to the benefit of the local economy, the whole community, the wider Cheshire West and Chester economy, and the promotion of sustainable development.
5.10 In the light of this assessment an Action Plan is presented as a route to address the potential opportunities. Central to the Action Plan is a renewed focus on key themes and bolstered governance arrangements to foster momentum, delivery capability, cross boundary working and importantly representation and involvement from all sections of the community, including large and small businesses.
5.11 The key interlated themes for the Action Plan are therefore:
2. Neston Town Centre
3. Economy and Employment
4. Visitor Economy
5. Public Transport
5.12 The Action Plan in Annex 1 sets the detail of the proposed initiatives. An overview is set out below.
5.13 Governance: The Town Council and Cheshire West and Chester Council are key partners in this process. To place an emphasis on delivery it is proposed to augment existing structures by establishing a new ‘Delivery Group’ comprising representatives of the Town Council and CWaC, but also importantly large and small business, the Parkgate visitor economy sector as well as, ideally, Wirral and public transport representatives. This group would, in the first instance, need to be serviced by CWaC and have senior representation from key bodies, not least CWaC to ensure consistency in decision making (and thereby delivery). This group should take ownership of delivery, monitoring and reviewing the Action Plan.
5.14 In turn the Delivery Group should in due course have representation on cross boundary working groups, notably in the visitor economy and transport.
5.15 It is recommended that a ‘Wirral Coast’ working group is established under the umbrella of the Mersey Dee Alliance to drive forward cross boundary visitor economy working.
5.16 The Delivery Group and other partners should continue to lobby for the inclusion of Neston in the Merseytravel area.
5.17 Town Centre: The town centre is central to the life of the community and importantly its sense of civic pride. It has the potential for improvement, delivering new jobs, homes, income and an enhanced image for the town. It could also more fully complement Parkgate, the key visitor destination, to the benefit of both. A masterplan for the town centre should be prepared and used to drive forward further improvements which should take on board the findings of the work currently being carried out by Locality relating to the potential future use of the Town Hall and Market Square.
5.18 Employment and Economy: Aside from the town centre, and more broadly the visitor economy, Clayhill Business Park and the promotion and retention of micro-businesses are the key opportunities to encourage employment growth.5.19 A management plan should be prepared for Clayhill Business Park, including, as proposed, the delivery of additional units. The town centre masterplan (and Town Council) should consider further opportunities to support start up and micro-businesses including perhaps access to business support services such as, in due course, internet / video conferencing enabled meeting space and wifi hot spot.5.20 Further consideration should be given to measures to address the specific instances of
relatively low levels of qualification and skills, wage levels and mobility constraints in some particular neighbourhoods.
5.21 Visitor Economy: The visitor offer of Parkgate should be sensitively developed and the connections to Neston Town Centre enhanced. The complementary role of Neston and the potential to attract and retain visitors in the town centre as part of a visit to the ‘seaside’ should be a central theme of the town centre masterplan.
5.22 Parkgate clearly has continued potential to attract visitors, but its branding, particularly in Cheshire West and Chester documentation is unclear and relatively low profile. More broadly there is a lack of collective branding in regards to Neston’s assets such as Neston Market, Ness Gardens, Parkgate, Wirral Way and Neston’s heritage and horticultural offer.
5.23 Parkgate is clearly a unique place and the local driver for further growth in the visitor economy, however it currently falls (and is hidden) under the banner of ‘Neston – a historic market town’ This fails to do justice to both Parkgate and Neston.
5.24 Neston is and will remain the focus of future development and in this way can act as a counterweight to Parkgate where conservation is a greater priority. Local priorities and agendas appear to reflect this apparent divergence.
5.25 These issues should be resolved through a joined-up visitor economy strategy.
5.26 Transport: Cycling is as a key contributor to attracting visitors to the Neston area and should continue to be encouraged. An events programme that includes new activities related to cycling should be broadened with particular emphasis on the town centre, the Wirral Way and links to Hooton and Deeside. Cycling connectivity is also considered to be vital in encouraging sustainability in particular in regards to commuters and commuting distances.
5.27 It has been well documented in this study that key consultees feel that the local community in Neston is at a disadvantage where rail travel and commuting by rail is concerned. This is in part due to the higher rail fares, infrequent service and poor reliability of the existing service experienced compared to some other towns. Lobbying and campaigning by the TownCouncil to include Neston with the Merseytravel network should continue to include Neston within the Merseytravel area.In the meantime, new bus services to key areas of employment should be supported and encouraged.
5.28 Car parking should be rationalised to meet town centre development and managed in a way that meets the needs of visitors to the area and to ensure that car parking is accessible for those wishing to access services within the town centre.
Housing: The Town Centre masterplan should facilitate the delivery of apartments aimed at both older residents to allow for ‘down-sizing’ and younger households. It is also acknowledged that Neston does have a role in providing some opportuinties for rented accommodation and this could be reflected in proposals for the town centre.
5.29 Neston offers a range of opportunities to develop over time as a more vibrant, attractive economically vibrant town and visitor destination to the benefit of the local community and the wider economy. Progress along the key themes of Governance, the town centre, transport and the visitor economy will assist in realising this greater potential.