In this feature, we give a platform for local people to have their say. This week’s Speakers’ Corner is written by Paul Young, Conservative candidate for Batley West (@Paul4Batley)
It has been interesting to read many stories talking our town down in recent weeks, one of which is the death of our high street.
Whilst I hear what is being said, it is interesting to note that Batley actually has fewer empty shops than many similar-sized towns (surprising but true!).
Whilst the mix of shops changes (and will need to continue to do so), it says a lot for our town’s resilience that we still have regular shoppers.
That is not to say we should be complacent; we do need a re-imagining of what the town centre is for.
It needs to be the local place residents go for essential services: the post office, the GP, the library, the opticians or the dentist.
And around those essential services, in areas with natural footfall, we need to entice consumers to stay after their appointment has ended.
The mix of shops we have seems to be a concern to residents that I have spoken to.
Many feel we should be encouraging new and exciting businesses that will help our town centre thrive around those essential services that make it survive.
Can we make some simple changes that will encourage better use of the market square; pedestrianising or re-routing traffic to create space for seasonal initiatives?
Batley has a rich community with lots of different cultural traditions that could make for interesting food and craft markets; showcasing our local produce and talent and providing a reason for visitors to come to our town.
And anyone who spent time in the market square this winter will surely agree that a few well-chosen lights and a reason to gather can create a pretty special space in the heart of our town.
We don’t need £25 million to create a cultural quarter in Batley; with our magnificent buildings overlooking the square, we just need a few creative ideas and fairly modest funds to enable us to maximise the benefits of what we already have, all year round.
One area where we have a challenge is ‘above eye level’. Walking around town at the weekend, I was struck by the amount of empty space above the high street.
We need to encourage the conversion of these spaces into small business offices or even residential accommodation.
More people working or living in the town brings the obvious benefit that they will spend money during the day.
And at night, residents are more likely to spend time and money long after the shoppers and workers have gone home.
They also discourage anti-social behaviour as they are more likely to report incidents and disruption to the police.
Local councillors need to take the lead in doing more to encourage investment, and crucially to engage with the community to help shape a plan for the future.
I asked them last year what their plan for Batley was; I am still waiting for an answer.
Batley needs and deserves a long-term plan and that requires year-round action, not just soundbites at campaign time.
Though I wasn’t elected at last year’s election, I have been looking at ways to develop a plan, speaking to residents, traders and community groups.
And my efforts and commitment to Batley’s future will continue, regardless of the outcome on May 2 because Batley rightly deserves to be the northern jewel in Kirklees’ crown.