Thank goodness for councils that listen!

Ten years ago: The Chronicle can reveal that Congleton is gearing up for a radical transformation. After a six-week consultation period, consultants King Sturge have analysed the results and found that the town was overwhelmingly in favour of the radical option. More than 80% of respondents were in favour of change. “Congleton is on the road to embracing a dynamic and prosperous future. It will be a key town in east Cheshire.”

***

Ah, who can forget the days of that badly-designed old Congleton town centre? Back then we had the famed Morrison’s wall, which for those too young to remember was the most amazing architectural feature.

Some years before a group of councillors, and some brainy people too, had gathered around a table to debate what would make the entrance to our historic market town more attractive, and increase footfall in shops.

They all agreed a four-storey unadorned brick edifice hiding all the shops, and reminiscent of the Berlin Wall, was the way forward. Genius only matched by separating the town from its historic park with a series of iron barriers inspired by the Disneyland queuing system.

The wall’s success could be judged by the many passing motorists who stopped as they drove by, keen to browse the array of independent shops that lay hidden behind its bleakness.

Then there was the outdoor market, the cold wind whistling round the blue-fingered stall holders as they plied their trade to throngs of customers, with the joi de vivre of the crowd in harmony with the aroma of the old public toilets.

But all that was 10 years ago. Hard to believe.

Over time, even the much-loved brick wall outlived its usefulness and our local councils acted rapidly once they realised people wanted change.

A mere three years after the 2008 consultation above, in 2011, they held another consultation in the town hall, to double check that people really wanted Congleton to become “a destination of choice”; they had to be sure before they forged ambitiously ahead and had spent those three years thinking very, very hard.

Mountbatten Way was seen as the as the biggest problem by most people, and our elected representatives promised to remove the Disneyland barriers and improve crossing points.

Boy, did they act quickly. The town was amazed. Who can forget the speed at which change came? While some lesser councils might take nearly a decade merely to spend £1m putting in badly-laid footpaths, sloping benches that failed to take into account topography and strips of bricks to trick people into walking in front of moving traffic, our elected representatives were made of sterner stuff.

It took several years, and a lot of intelligent debate and hard work, but they came up with more ambitious plans than mere cosmetic changes.

As the public demanded, the old railings across Mountbatten Way all came down and pedestrian access from the town centre to the park, the jewel in Congleton’s crown, was opened up.

No longer do office workers have to battle speeding traffic, fumes and multiple crossing points to reach the park in their lunch hour, and we’ve all seen how the park has benefited.

The Stalinist Morrison’s wall was incorporated into the redesigned Bridestones, as we all know, giving us the thriving shopping centre we have today — as the land was council-owned in part, it made it all so much easier. The improved range of shops and the hotel boosted Congleton’s retail economy considerably. The market moved back to its original location, as had been promised for years, and is booming once more.

And to think there are councils elsewhere who’d do nothing for years on end!

It helped that we had a number of Congleton councillors on the Cheshire East Cabinet, putting our town first. The stability of Cheshire East leaders staying in post for several years meant the plan was developed and followed through by an experienced team.

Congleton Town Council deserves praise, of course: it carefully researched and installed the popular-high tech digital display unit — known as a “DDU” — to direct people to shops and events.

Obviously, this success upset some of our neighbours: as Congleton moved up to be a key town in east Cheshire, Macclesfield fell into the second division.

Maxonians are now demanding to know why they could not have a new cinema and restaurants, an improved shopping centre and market improvements.

All in a mere 10 years since the public first demanded change!

And they say local councillors don’t listen to the views of the public.

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