A plan for our high street.
Updated: Apr 10, 2022
With Crossrail finally coming, I believe Romford stands ready to revive its high street, if we make the right choices now. If we don’t, we’ll become simply another commuter town for London.
Romford must now be picky about what retail we open here, to save our high street.
South Street, The Brewery, High Street, our historic Market Place, Romford has a huge amount of retail space and a good amount of parking to go with it. But much of this lies empty or filled with temporary or low-end businesses that don’t seem committed to our town.
Barbers, fish shops, low-end furniture stores, others that don’t invest in cleaning up the front of the store.
I’m not, like many people, devoid of hope for our town. I see signs of people beginning to invest in Romford in a big way. National chains like Wendys and Taco Bell have opened new stores here. Premier Inn has launched its 3rd Romford hotel and Ibis is opening a hotel and bar next to the station.
These places are opening because people go to Romford. It means tourists coming in to stay here and tourism is good. Tourists cost the town very little, and they spend good money. But with Crossrail opening we’re going to risk the tourists spending everything in Westfield or Bond Street.
So what do we have that can keep them here?
Revamp the market.
Have you noticed a steady increase in places to eat in Romford market?
Buffalo wings, Asian food, burgers, crepes, cakes, a smoothie truck. Slowly but surely Romford market is becoming a good place to grab a bite to eat.
We could create a dedicated ‘food market’ in Romford.
Let’s say we get 4 of these trucks in the market at any given time. At the moment they spread themselves out across the marketplace and their smells waft around. This upsets some of the traders who are selling clothes and soft furnishings. So, let’s place the food trucks at the clock tower end. Placed all together, with some Romford Market picnic benches and enough bins, we’ll create a mini food-market.
This can grow over time, becoming a place to meet. It doesn’t require anything, except a few painted benches and shuffling round the stalls.
Live music and performances
A dedicated ‘food market’ in Romford creates a social space, this makes it ideal for live music. I’ve visited a few markets around London. From the fancy ones to the more practical. The best all have one thing in common. They have a good vibe.
Romford market should provide dedicated busking spots in the market, preferably at the food-stall end. This doesn’t need to be a fancy stage or anything special. But somewhere where local musicians can come and play with a captive audience of people sat at benches eating.
Let’s get our historic market to be a place to meet, not just a place to shop.
Tidy up the town
There’s no secret, Romford is looking dirty. It’s been deep cleaned, has regular street sweepers, but people still dump their rubbish and spit their gum. We need to change people’s behaviours.
People look after nice places, and I think people would respect Romford more if we smartened it up.
Pocket parks (mobile planters), more nice benches around the market, flags hanging from the poles, these would all make the place look much nicer and make it a nicer place to hang out.
Making the pavements around the station wider and moving the moped riders to Havana St would also improve people’s journeys from the station to the centre.
Targeted rates discounts
Cheap retail space means cheap stores move in. Once cheap stores move in the nice stores keep away. If we’re not careful then Romford will simply become the place you go to get a cheap phone-repair or second-hand x-box. (I’ve no idea how so many of these survive in Romford).
The Council collects business rates from each business in Romford, which I think should be reduced for the businesses we want to attract.
Again, think of our historic market. Wouldn’t it be great to have some proper restaurants around it, with outside dining? Why are the Nandos, Pizza Express and so on in a weird upstairs area above Sainsburys?
I believe the Council should establish a Retail Development Zone. This would break Romford into certain districts, and we’d prioritise certain business types in these.
Want to open a cheap furniture shop in the market square? Fine, pay your rates in full. But, if you open a restaurant then you get cheaper rates than if you opened it elsewhere.
Have a clothes store you want to open? Great, pick a unit in South Street and your business rates are reduced.
This way the Council can encourage certain stores from opening and discourage others. No rates discounts for fish shops, mobile phone repair, take aways and so on.
We need to attract the right business, not every business.
Assisting new businesses
Along with rate relief, for the right businesses, Romford should look at how we incubate start-ups.
If you’ve spent 30 seconds on Facebook recently then you’ll know that everyone is starting at home businesses. Balloons, cakes, cooking, crafts, so many have popped up during Covid. It’s amazing to see how entrepreneurial the people of Romford are.
But it’s a big leap to taking a retail unit.
Romford B.I.D do a great job of hosting new businesses in the market. They rotate pop-ups at their stalls and some of these have transitioned to full-time market stalls. This kind of support, with retail units could change someone’s life.
Havering Council own the clock-tower building, that housed the old Wimpy. I believe this unit should be kitted out to be a pop-up café / restaurant space. Every 3 months a new foodie business could be given the chance to have the space and to try and make a success of it. The unit next door would serve as a similar space for anything from cakes and balloons.
We could have dedicated Romford Business Incubators to help our ‘cottage industries’ grow.
I believe we should also find ways to train and equip these at home businesses to transition to fully-fledged, professionally operated businesses.
Regular training sessions could be offered on accounting, taxes, renting, marketing and so on. Local business leaders could be brought in to share their expertise and to mentor those interested in growing from home to high-street.
Romford has what it takes
I’m very hopeful about Romford’s future.
We’ve got the footfall, the connections, the retail space, the local expertise and an entrepreneurial population.
If we utilise these properly then Romford doesn’t have to become a giant discount store that’s easy to get out of. We can become a buzzing centre of small businesses that’s easy to get to.
It's time to let go of the past, to stop complaining about what our town 'used to be', to stop trying to recreate what we had, a model that has failed across the UK as the world has moved on.
Let’s champion new ideas of doing things, for a new generation of high-street.