24 June 2011

Ghost Town


24th highest vacancy rate for shops etc in the country. Over a quarter of the units available in Walsall Town Centre are empty. Can’t say I had noticed the plethora of ‘to let’ signs, boarded up windows and the general air of doom that envelopes me when I alight the bus.

This is the bus that has to wait to get into the bus station and then wait again once in, to park up and unload. Bad design, congestion, whatever the cause it’s bad for Walsall. The station itself, a concrete bunker that couldn’t look any better even if the sun shone all day every day. Grey, faceless and downright dangerous to anyone who attempts to cross the road.

Then there are the car parks. The only place you can park free of charge in Walsall is Tesco’s and if Mike Bird has his way that will not be for much longer. Free parking at Christmas didn’t bring in the expected numbers, so instead of looking at why people don’t want to come to Walsall, everyone seems intent on making it even more unattractive. They’re now talking about charging blue badge holders at the same rate as fully able drivers. And not just in the town centre but at the hospital too.

Why on earth would anyone want to come to Walsall to shop? Come by bus and wait and wait and wait, then take your life in your hands. Come in a car, wait for hours at the Arboretum Junction if coming from the north, get charged though the nose to park it, even if you’re disabled. And then once you’re in, browse the empty shop units, the fast food bars, the half empty market stalls and the precious few decent shops that remain. If you come early enough you can watch the rats at play at the top end of Park Street. Come at any time of the day for your head and shoulders to be used as a pigeon toilet.

The marvellous New Art Gallery, brilliant leather museum, our peregrine falcons and now even red deer are not enough to entice people into a place that conjures up in my mind all the fun of a cemetery, one which has had its services contracted out and is thus forlorn, ill-kept and uninviting no matter how much you once loved what is there. And there’s the rub, I used to enjoy shopping in Walsall ten years ago when I returned to the area. All the shops I needed in a compact area, easy to walk around, a decent market. The problems with the bus station were worth putting up with and I presume the drivers didn’t mind because they could park free of charge if they were in the know or got in early. Now I avoid the Town like the plague. I can go and have much more pleasant experience in Birmingham or Lichfield or even Tamworth.

To paraphrase an extremely famous headline, will the last person to leave Walsall turn out the lights….if they’re not already off of course.

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