Whilst in Gravesend at the weekend I came across two examples of something which Local Councils should do their best to stop – blank frontages on their High Streets.
Local Authorities which know anything about Urban Design, and what makes places work, talk in their policy documents about their requirement for buidings to have ‘active frontages’ – that is to have buldings which at ground floor level have people going in and out and which allow people to see in and to see out.
So I was dissapointed to see this example of a large shop on a major street corner of the main shopping street.
It is actually a working shop – open to the public, but it looks like a large empty unit.
But, it got worse because on the opposite corner was this:
An operational fast-food outlet, full of people but they can’t see out and we can’t see in.
Between these two large shops is a large space which could function as a public space but the buildings, their use and the spaces between the buildings have to work together. However, these two buildings are being rude and anti-social; ignoring the outside world and context.
I also saw these two empty buildings which have been theatres and/or bingo halls at one time.
Apart from red-hot locations there will always be some empty buildings in Town Centres and High Streets, as there is transition from one use to another or one user to another, but I think that there should be no excuse for long-term vacancy. If the current owner can’t think of another use they should pass the ownership on to someone else who can and at a price which allows use – the unemployed are expected to price themselves into a job so why shouldn’t empty buildings be expected to do likewise? Owners shouldn’t be allowed to blight thier neighbourhood by leaving buildings empty for anything other than a transitional period – you wouldn’t be allowed to dump a wrecked car on a High Street so why allow a wrecked building to blight a High Street?
I would suggest that Local Councils ought to have an active and robust empty property policy for town centres where they say that they will not allow any building to be empty for (say) more than 2 years. Any building which is empty for over 2 years will be acquired by a CPO, with use passing on to another user at a price and rental which allows some use to take place. There are plenty of people, businesses and groups who are looking for premices but at a price which they can afford, and Local Authorities should be putting the two together. The message will soon get out to owners that they cannot just let thier buildings slowly decay to the detriment of the surrounding area.