LEADING urban regeneration expert Wayne Hemingway has no doubt that the multi-million redevelopment schemes planned for Bangor will transform the city’s fortunes.
The international designer, who has helped shape the visions of both the £50m Queen’s Parade and £78.2m Bangor Waterfront developments, was keen to dispel the misgivings of any naysayers about the city’s future on his latest visit to the borough.
The internationally renowned designer and co-founder of fashion label Red and Dead has been involved in transformation projects across the United Kingdom, including in London, York, Crewe and Margate in Kent.
He stressed the days of High Streets filled with ‘chain after chain’ were gone alongside its 1980s and 1990s bedfellows of consumerism and instead there would be a transformation of town and city centres through culture and social gatherings with independent style shops.
He praised the city’s location and stunning natural surroundings, as well as its built heritage, in particular the recently rejuvenated Court House and its ‘outdoorsy’ lifestyle from paddleboarding, to yacht clubs and beaches.
A keen runner, the 62 year-old said he loved nothing more than staying in Ballyholme when he visits, before donning his running shoes and heading along the coastal path.
“We would work all over the UK and this (Bangor) is certainly in my top three, I can’t wait to come to it,” he said.
Having run to Holywood and back during his stay, he was clearly impressed by the borough’s scenic location. “It is so beautiful, the rugged coastline. Going from a beach then uphill and then through the woods on to another beach, it is phenomenal.
“The town itself has so much potential. The architecture, you see all the colours of the Georgian and Victorian homes, compared to so many coastal towns around the United Kingdom, it is really well kept.”
Praising the town’s built heritage, he said: “The Court House has been done brilliantly, it has a great location and it is providing contemporary music and culture. Any town would give their right hand to have Open House putting on quality gigs and keeping young people here, that is important.”
He acknowledged Bangor’s city centre had ‘seen better times’ like many others across the UK and the world and was now going through a ‘transition’.
Stating the decline of the town centres could not be blamed on local councils, he said: “We got our High Streets wrong. We can’t blame the councils, blame the public. In the 1980s and 1990s everything became about consumerism.”
He explained that town centres, going back to Roman times, were places of social gathering, for people to have contact with others and also to buy goods that were needed to live.
He stressed the need to bring back the ‘cultural’ side of a town or city centre. “To meet people for a coffee, to have a bite to eat, to listen to music, that may mean less shops and that transition takes time.”
He said: “We are never going back to a High Street with chain after chain. We have a new generation that is better than us. They are not shopping all week, how empty is that?”
Wayne praised the up and coming generation, saying they were more sustainable in their attitudes and lifestyle. “If you look at the statistics, 20% of clothing that is bought is never worn. That is why the High Street is suffering because we went crazy on consumption and we are now reigning that in.”
Highlighting the transformation of towns such as Shrewsbury, Margate and Hebden Bridge he said: “They have all become more independent, less reliant on chains and become much more social in terms of shopping and become more cultural. As a result they are really happy places to live.”
To people crying out saying ‘there are no shops’ in the city centre he said: “The first question I ask is why did you stop shopping in them? Our High Streets are not dying, they are evolving.”
For those people critical of the number of charity shops in a town, he was keen to stress they were a ‘good sign’. “They (charity shops) are growing 14 to 15 per cent a year and it is young people who are shopping there for the right reasons for thrift and sustainability.”
Confident that both the schemes would actually take place and be completed he did stress ‘it is not going to happen overnight’.
“There has to be detailed plans, you have to run it past the public and then it gets changed naturally and then you go through planning. It is not like fitting a kitchen.”
And once the redevelopment schemes have been completed – it’s a five year build schedule for Queen’s Parade and a finish date of 2033 for Bangor Waterfront – he believes the days of enjoying a lone run along the coastal path will be long gone.
He said: “For certain, when all these works are done Bangor will have a level of fame and will draw people to come here. That will turn round the town centre with people opening Air BnBs and boutique hotels. You won’t have the coastal path for a run or a cycle on your own.”