High Street, North Berwick
Category: The Great Street
Date of visit: August 2017
Assessor: Alistair Barr
1. Visions and actions
The community and the council have worked together to identify shortcomings and opportunities in the street. Funding has been obtained for public meetings and professional advice, a good example being Dunbar.
2. Joining up different stakeholders
The breadth of stakeholders is impressive and the “Why Not?” shop helps to link all the organisations together. The shop is also a great example of supporting local enterprise.
3. Traffic management is key to the next steps
The level of debate has covered all parts of the community and the solution should be implemented as soon as possible.
The street has been subjected to many outside changes and has displayed a strong sense of resilience.
5. Be prepared to adapt
Every change of circumstance has been met by a versatile solution.
The high street has a fascinating history but it is also very forward looking. The level of local involvement in the management of the facilities is very high and many successful ideas have been put to work. A broad range of stakeholders are working under the North Berwick Coastal Area Partnership. The high street has a footfall of around 4,200 people and serves the seven adjacent communities. The North Berwick Business Association wants to encourage more visits and more repeat customers.
The Charrette Mainstreaming programme – a national programme with Scottish government support – has looked at access, traffic and parking issues in the high street by public meetings that were well supported. Parking has been a long-standing issue in the high street. The council is committed to bringing the debates to a conclusion and these issues were discussed in the recent meetings. However, at the September meeting, the response is not yet clearly defined.
North Berwick is at the end of the railway line and the road network and enclosed by the sea to the north. Nevertheless it has a diverse mix of independent and chain shops with residential uses above the ground floor. There is a good balance between shopping for residents and visitors and no dominance of tourism. A Tesco was opened outside town in 2005 and there was a negative impact on the retailers. But the high street is now thriving by being flexible and innovative. A large empty retail unit has become a ‘Why Not?’ shop, which offers pop up arts and crafts, a fishmonger, delicatessen and café.
The street runs east-west to shield users from the sea winds, which creates a level street with easy access for all in a compact layout. The shop fronts display interest with a coherent layout of local red sandstone.
This tight urban grain is appealing but the street is struggling to engage with the modern issues of deliveries, parking, pedestrians and motor transport.
The public realm is very small in percentage terms and the Lighthouse Corner needs maintenance and new ideas to reflect its key position and function as a rare ‘breathing space’ in the street. The connection to the beaches and port have much unfulfilled potential.
The community councillors and the council are committed to making the street accessible for all ages and backgrounds. Retailers feel that parking outside shops is good for them but most residents feel that pedestrian restrictions are restricting enjoyable access. They have commissioned Kevin Murray Associates (KMA) to manage the Charrette process and KMA have commented that the community was “one of the most engaged they have ever seen”.
This street demonstrates clearly how flexibility and resilience can create a response to change. The shops have bounced back with new retail offers. The council provides a business gateway service for new start-ups and the ‘Why Not?’ space is a great success. Interest free loans of up to £25,000 are available via East Lothian Investments to all types of businesses. The accreditation by Scotland’s Food and Drink County and a Business Improvement District all demonstrate a willingness to embrace change.
A number of small steps that have been made have made a big impact. There is visible pride in the street and its setting, which is expressed by community initiative. Adjacent to the high street are beaches, sailing, walks, golf courses and ways of engaging with nature, especially puffins and gannets. The educational outreach programmes are wide ranging and the August week when the Fringe comes to North Berwick is a sell-out success.
North Berwick is a Fair Trade town and ‘Sustaining North Berwick’ is developing food and environmental initiatives. There are discounted Seabird Centre entrance fees when arriving by bike, the John Muir Way walking routes and the new environmentally friendly buses. The Community Resilience Plan is in place to mitigate environmental impacts and a flood risk management plan for the whole of North Berwick. Flats above shops are well used.
Their re-use of existing buildings is excellent. The Beach Wheel Chair project, the lobster hatchery, St. Andrews Blackadder Church and the Abbey Church all offer repurposed spaces for community use.
Low-income residents are helped by the Food Bank Plus, ‘NB the Club’ and the Kindness Co-Operative. Dementia friendly NB has helped retailers understand the needs of people with dementia. The Area Partnership has established a health and wellbeing group and On the Move, which encourage active travel.
The Ageing Well project activities dovetail with all the other initiatives. The pop up Why Not? gathers together information about all these groups and activities and promotes all health and wellbeing groups.
The town has created a street that offers a post office, police station, cafés and restaurants as well as a destination. The charrette process has expertly addressed vehicle issues but unfortunately no clear feedback was available of the time of the visit. Access for all includes facilities for people with physical, sensory and cognitive disabilities.
The existing signage needs improvement, however. The community supports the move to reduce vehicle parking on the high street, which would allow wider footways. This issue is fundamental to the continued improvement of the high street and the assessors sought assurances that the council will make improvements soon after many years of debate.
This is a street that demonstrates how flexibility and forward thinking can overcome modern day challenges to create a vibrant urban street experience.
The community involvement is particularly impressive with things getting done at both local and regional levels. The public realm is currently compromised and the assessors support the initiatives to take control of deliveries, parking and vehicle access. These initiatives should aim high in terms of a traffic solution for the future.