Never mind inner cities and the red-belt towns of the North, the decline of the high street is obvious even in Tory heartlands like historic Spalding. For all the ‘shop local’ campaigns, it is clear that the Tories are losing the battle to maintain town centres in traditionally Tory towns including Spalding and Grantham. I spent Sunday afternoon in Spalding and the number of boarded up properties and ‘to let’ signs’ was quite depressing.
The first was the black swan pub on New Road. It doesn’t look particularly salubrious and will have suffered stiff competition from the Wetherspoon’s that has opened just a few doors down. Pubs in England are still closing at an alarming rate due to a number of factors including high tax, high business rates, oppressive brewery chains and cheap supermarket alcohol. Who can afford to go out for a pint on a regular basis when a pint costs almost £5, and the same pint at home costs less than £2?
Driving past the edge-of-town supermarkets and back to Spalding Town Centre, I parked outside the old Johnson hospital immediately opposite the South Holland Council Offices. This Listed building was closed about 10 years ago and is now an eyesore with graffiti, boarded windows and lamps being stolen from right outside. The site is apparently owned by a company based in the British Virgin Islands who also own the former sorting office in Spalding which is in a similar state of disrepair.
Next door is another forsaken building which looks like a old police station but could quite easily be part of the hospital. It looks as if it might be suitable for an office development but who would take it on in its current condition?
Just round the corner on the river bank there is a parade of well-kept Georgian terraced houses worthy of any guide book. Opposite these, unfortunately, is the less-impressive sight of the derelict former ‘Bull and Monkey’ pub to which firefighters were called last month.
I thought I would go for the hat-trick of lost pubs by going to the site of ‘The Birds’ which until December 2018 was a cheap and cheerful ‘Hungry Horse’ serving food and beers to families and telly-sports enthusiasts on Halmer Gate. Here’s the most recent google street view image:
I was expecting to find the usual picture of brambles, graffiti and boarded windows so was surprised to find the pub has been demolished to make way for a 61-bed care home.
Genuine question: if a ramshackle pub is not economically viable (and in this case I’m not sure if it was) is it better to knock it down and build something more useful?
There are other care homes being built in Spalding. There’s one nearly finished on Spalding Common which is opposite another which can’t be much more than five years old. Can we really build an town’s economy on elderly care homes? Certainly, we can’t expect the town centres and high streets to last very long with just pound shops, charity shops and bookies.
The renaissance of independent shops and vibrant economies is not going to happen by accident and, with the best will in the world, it’s not just going to happen just by putting on weekly artisan and farmers’ markets. The problem is that most stuff is now bought online, and the people who sell it don’t have to pay sales staff or business rates or even corporation tax!
It must be difficult for senior Lincolnshire Tories including Sir John Hayes (Spalding’s MP) and Lord Gary Porter (Leader of South Holland DC) to put pressure on the government to level the playing field for our historic town centres when it seems the Government doesn’t really care.