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At a meeting of local retailers and service providers on 10th July 2011 the question of “who owns Harpenden’s High Street?” And “What do Harpenden people want of their Town Centre?” dominated the discussion.

Chris Grey and I attended this meeting in the Town Hall to listen to the concerns of a substantial cross section of Harpenden retailers and service providers. The meeting was chaired by Keith Lunn of the Harpenden Society award winning Breathing Space and the Mayor, Town Clerk and a representative of SADC were present.

There was a lengthy discussion on the problems facing the Harpenden commercial districts and possible ways of attracting more local trade. Three things in particular emerged which on which action needs to be taken.

1. The question was raised of what do Harpenden people want of their Town Centre?  Would anyone reading this please let us know your opinion.

2. Car parking was perhaps the most grievous issue raised at the meeting. There was a unanimous vote for the one hour street parking to be extended to two hours and at least the first hour of parking at the main car parks to be made free. The Mayor took this on board and clearly feels that with the new amicable relationship with the SADC governing majority, progress can be made. Regarding car parks, the contract with NCP still has two years to run but negotiations could begin much sooner than that. Again, views would be welcomed.

3. Finally, and in the long term perhaps most interestingly, many retailers complained of the rising rents from faceless commercial property owners, described as ‘multinationals’, who didn’t really like local businesses and wanted to attract in the big brand names like McDonalds and Starbucks. The latter, the owners believe, would add value to the property, which was their main interest. Indeed it was suggested that the owners were quite happy to leave premises unoccupied for lengthy periods, while waiting for what they saw as more profitable opportunities.

When asked who these ‘multinationals’ were, no one seemed to know. A few landlords are local and very good. Many, however, seem to be faceless. We need to find out who they are and confront them with our concerns for the future of Harpenden. I think that we may have the makings of an important campaign here under the heading of ‘Who owns Harpenden’s High Street?’ I am sure that the Town Council would be supportive and I expect we would find allies in similarly placed towns.

Chris Marsden.

Who Owns Harpenden’s High Street