Projects

Setting out a vision for the future of Wellington centre

Background

Wellington is failing to live up to its market town brand. On a national scale, medium sized towns like Wellington have been hit hardest, as retailers have become increasingly selective about where they locate. However, Wellington centre should be seen as having a much brighter future than many small and medium-sized towns, thanks to the size and income-diversity of its immediate population, along with its accessibility to a large and growing population across the wider area. OPM were asked to set out a vision for Wellington centre in 2020 and provide practical action plans on how the town can start to make real progress and improve its role as a busy, popular local hub

What we did

The research focused specifically on the future functions and prosperity of the centre of Wellington and included:

  • A review of key national studies relating to the future of town centres;
  • Depth interviews with professionals working locally in retail, housing, economic development and urban design;
  • An online survey of 213 responses, all of whom either lived, worked or studied in the local area. This survey explored residents current habits, preferences, perceptions and ambitions relating to Wellington and in contrast to other local towns;
  • Workshops and further semi-structured interviews with town council members, local residents and local businesses.

The report highlighted the following:

  • The strong centres are getting stronger as multiple retailers are increasingly selective about where they locate. Equally, at the other end of the retail spectrum, many local and neighbourhood centres have fared well, but medium sized towns like Wellington are hit hardest.
  • Recent retail studies agree that existing levels of physical retail space cannot be sustained into the future. Like most other town centres, Wellington should be prepared to reduce the level of retail space and proactively plan for alternative uses to be extended.
  • Online shopping will radically impact on how retail businesses operate in the years ahead, and that longer term, and longer term, Wellington’s businesses, public services, community groups and individual residents will need to be better networked via the sort of digital infrastructure proposed by the Grimsey Review.
  • The controlled growth of residential development within central Wellington should be seen as natural and desirable as the need for traditional retail space contracts in the years ahead.

Impact

The report set out to the refocus the town council and its partners on a set of practical actions to support positive change in the centre of Wellington. These proposed actions were framed within a vision built on an understanding of local and  national drivers and trends, as well as the views and ideas of town councillors and local people.

As a result of the work, the town council has started identifying new opportunities for making progress against different strands of the vision, including the organisation of new market events and cultural activities. It has also started new conversations with local partner organisations to explore other routes to proactively supporting development.