Spalding’s civic society is leading the charge against shop windows being plastered with plastic, blanking out everything or almost everything inside.
Branding the practice as “vinyl blight”, the society says national chains like B&M are as much to blame as east European mini-markets – and describes the street scene they create as “tacky”, “a footfall killer” and “a real visitor turn-off”.
In its latest newsletter, the society says: “These are the windows that say ‘keep out’, unlike attractively set-out windows that say, ‘come in and see more’.
“What a difference if all our shop windows had the vitality and actuality of the Tuesday and Saturday market stalls.
“The town centre is selling itself short at the moment.”
Spalding and District Civic Society has suggested a shop fronts award scheme as one way of persuading traders to display goods in their windows to help make the town more attractive.
It just makes the town look so tacky and run downCivic society president John Charlesworth
It also wants to see:
• Rigorous use of council powers to refuse hot food takeaway applications if the cumulative effect is “likely to harm the character or shopping function of the area”
• Rapid adoption by the council of an emerging local plan policy to prevent “dead frontages” (clusters of non-retail shops) and is pressing for that policy to include retail shops with blanked out windows
• Businesses that have no goods to sell to host regularly changing displays by establishing links with art studios, photographic societies and schools
Society president John Charlesworth told us: “There’s no-one with any real responsibility for the town centre as a whole – if there were, then one could confidently say that would be the person to approach about blanking out of the shop windows.
“There’s one illustration of a much more general point – the county council is responsible for the seating in Hall Place and the district council is responsible for the seating in Market Place and there are lots more examples of the same sort of thing.”
He says Hills Furnishings is a great example of the many Spalding shops with attractive window displays that invite customers inside.
“It’s what shop windows are for,” he said.
Mr Charlesworth said even a ban on vinyls would not necessarily lead to more attractive shop windows because retailers who were so minded could still put the backs of display cabinets towards the window.
“It just makes the town look so tacky and run down,” he said. “There’s Spalding in Bloom and the parks department doing what they do with the hanging baskets and planters, but it’s a losing battle if they are surrounded by blanked out windows.”
District council planning chairman Roger Gambba-Jones says there’s very little legislation to help councils put a stop to businesses covering up their windows – the authority already acts where it can, but can’t do more until the national picture changes.
He said the council planning manager, Paul Jackson, is taking the longer term view by saying the authority needs to convince traders that if they make the town attractive, everybody benefits, and it’s no good having “a lary shop front” that pleases only the individual trader.
But Coun Gambba-Jones believes the people who own the shops could do more to help the town look its best.
“Let’s not forget in the background there are local people who actually own these buildings,” he said. “They ultimately have the final say on how these buildings are used.”
He said owners could put a requirement in any leasing agreement telling tenants they couldn’t “blank the windows out” or perhaps set a limit on the window space that vinyls could take up,
“That would save an awful lot of aggravation, wouldn’t it?”, he said.
Coun Gambba-Jones says its difficult to see why shops have glass windows and then choose to cover them up.
• Winsover Road has more than its fair share of vinyls, with B&M covering the glass in its entire frontage and the Baltic next door opting for a big cover-up too. The Civic Society highlight other chains as vinyl offenders, including Halifax and Boots.
Among those getting it right in the society’s eyes are Stennett’s, Inkley’s, Store Twenty One, M&Co, Molsom’s Opticians and Hills Department Store. Wilko’s is described as “the superstore that surprises by actually dressing its windows”.