High Wycombe appears to be having a bit of an identity crisis.
Once named ninth in Britain’s list of “crap towns”, due to its “recession-ravaged skeletal remains of a High Street” and questionable nightlife, but all the while being only one of 42 towns in the UK to consistently win the Purple Flag Award for a safe night out, it has now been recently named the best commuter town to live in.
It’s residents also seem to be in battle, with some High Wycombe residents passionately defending it on the Facebook Community page, and the weekly Park Run on the Rye creating a sense of community you wouldn’t usually expect in a commuter town, but there is underlying tone of making fun of the town’s stereotypes and understanding that the majority of the town feels like the ugly step sister to Eden’s Cinderella.
High Wycombe is set in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with the Chiltern Hills providing excellent walks and amazing views. It is only 30 minutes outside of London and has two National Trust properties within its borders and it also has a wide variety of shops and leisure activities (there aren’t many towns that have a bowling alley and a theatre within walking distance of each other). On paper it has everything you need to make a great town, so why does it have its reputation for being crap?
To add to the identity confusion, parts of High Wycombe do definitely seem to be getting a facelift, with the new Next store that opened in 2015, the new Gym and coach way park and ride, which opened in January 2016 and now a brand new Waitrose, serving freshly made sushi no less, the question of who High Wycombe is and who is it for is as wide open as ever.
As well, don’t forget this is still just the early stages of the development; still to come is a new office building and hotel development. Don’t get me wrong, this is all very positive and will create a lot of well needed jobs and buzz in the area but some commentators have criticised it for taking more traffic away from the Town Centre, which is in desperate need of redevelopment. With more and more empty retail and office units is the future bleak for High Wycombe town centre? Does making the most of the Handy X Hub, which, for arguments sake, encompasses, the Gym, Waitrose, Next, the Cinema, Frankie and Benny’s, TGI Friday’s, ASDA, John Lewis and the rumoured Costco, mean that the town centre is going to get left behind and forgotten about?
Well, not according to the Town Planners, back in 2009 Wycombe District Council set out their plans for their 2026 vision, which, in essence, intends to create more high quality public spaces and mixed used developments by connecting the older parts of the town with the newer parts, which all revolves around the removal of the Abbey Way flyover. This will give Wycombe its well-needed facelift and should inject more of a sense of pride into its residents.
As well as this, work has now started on the disused industrial site in the Hughenden Quarter, near Morrisons, with plans in place to build a retirement village, including a shop, IT area, village hall, library and fitness suite.
Also, earlier in March 2016, we saw that councillors have approved 15 new projects to help improve the town centre. These include the redevelopment of the café on the Rye, which will include new toilets close to the children’s playground, re-opening the Paul’s Row public toilets with a pay-operate entrance, fixing the broken paving at certain points on the High Street and making better use of the Little Market House’s undercroft, on the High Street. Hopefully with these measures in place the High Street will start attracting more businesses to take up the empty units, with the recent closure of Greggs adding to their number.
As commercial property consultants, we haven’t seen an outright aversion to High Wycombe for businesses. Many businesses are able to see past its broken paving to appreciate its great location and other benefits. Also, our recent letting of 24a White Hart Street, shows that people do want to set up shop there, but without increasing the footfall to the High Street, the bigger businesses will always err on the side of caution and position themselves within an established mall.
In conclusion, High Wycombe is definitely suffering from an identity crisis but, give it time and I believe the ugly duckling will become a swan and it will be a place where we are proud to call home for ourselves and our businesses.
References:« Back to News & Blog