City centre survey: Wakefield should trade on ‘world class’ attractions and history

Wakefield Indoor Market Hall
Wakefield Indoor Market Hall

Wakefield should trade on its ‘world class’ attractions and history to thrive, according to academics.

In the Express city centre survey you said that the best thing by far about Wakefield was the cathedral, with our historical architecture and the Hepworth also scoring highly.

Wakefield Indoor Market Hall

Wakefield Indoor Market Hall

It’s clear that culture is at the heart of civic pride in the city and Dr Brendan Canavan, senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Huddersfield, said focusing on that heritage was Wakefield’s ticket to success. And he said that high street decline and the rise of online shopping mean city centres had to do something different and Wakefield had a great opportunity to capitalise on its culture.

Plans for Wakefield Market Hall cinema cancelled

He said: “High streets are in for it. Everything suggests it will get worse. People don’t have as much disposable income anymore and they won’t for a while.

“It will bottom out at some point but not yet.

The best thing about the city is “our beautiful cathedral” -Mrs M Day

“So you need to think about what you can’t do on the internet. In a city centre you can show people history and a narrative.

“It’s about moving away from consumption – what people like to do is come together to meet and learn new things.”

He thinks the Hepworth is the main attraction in a cultural portfolio that also includes the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the National Coal Mining Museum. Last month it was announced that Chantry House, the former council office block on Kirkgate, would be demolished.

The building has been empty since 2006 and is widely considered to be an eyesore.

Dr Canavan said: “The Hepworth is world class.

“Galleries can put people off, they can think it’s not for them but that isn’t the case.

“The Hepworth needs to integrate more, and more people will feel tempted to use it.

“And the area around Kirkgate and towards the gallery could do with being signposted better.

“Knocking down Chantry House is a good idea. I’m not generally in favour of going round knocking down buildings but that one is pretty hideous.”

He said that independent shops had a role to play in a successful city centre but warned that big chains were a big draw to bring people in.

He said: “It was great to read that 75 per cent of people use the city’s independent cafes. A lot of people are reluctant and go to chains instead, which is bad because it denies support to independent retailers and if people only use big chains and they pull out then it kills town centres.

“We are a nation of shopkeepers and it is a dream for many people to open a business.

“But if you lose critical mass of well known shops it will be damaging. People know what to expect chain shop and it draws them in.”

In terms of leisure he said that bowling alleys and ice rinks were “standard”, available in lots of other places, and tended to drift in and out of fashion.

But that they did not bring the kind of identity that other, cultural aspects of Wakefield offer.

He said: “A bowling alley is a dated, American big-box idea and whether it is the best way I don’t know.

“Ice rinks are expensive to run and can be a bit of a trend.

“Escape rooms are the flavour of the moment and it is a low cost model.

“But people always want something new, they get bored of just going to the pub and shopping.” He added: “Wakefield is doing pretty well to be fair. When I’m there it seems more alive that a lot of towns in the north.”

City Centre Survey

The Express launched its city centre survey in January to find out what readers think the city needs.

We received more than 500 responses and we will use what you told us to direct how we report on the city.

We will also put your suggestions to the people in power and the results will form part of Wakefield Council’s high street summit next week.

Last week we published we reported that most respondents wanted to see more leisure, such as a bowling alley or an ice rink, in the city centre.

And we reported that the former council building on Kirkgate, Chantry House, would be demolished.

The building has been derelict since 2006 and many readers wrote to us to tell us they thought it should be knocked down.

Work to replace it with houses is due to begin this year.