WHY WE NEED A NEW VISION FOR THE TOWN CENTRE:
LACK OF SUSTAINABLE AND PUBLIC TRANSPORT LINKS
The lack of a town centre station could be seen as a barrier to attracting employment opportunities into the town centre. Sustainable and public transport investments are necessary to better connect the town centre with key destinations, Hemel Hempstead station, Maylands, Apsley, the local centres and the future Hemel Garden Communities.
OVERSUPPLY OF RETAIL AND LACK OF CULTURAL AND LEISURE FACILITIES
Hemel Hempstead town centre presents an oversupply of retail space and has a very weak offering of sports, culture and restaurant facilities, the third weakest out of 109 town centres2. Town centres of the future need to become multi-purpose locations, combining retail and hospitality amenities with residential, education, healthcare, cultural, technology, community and more.
DECREASE IN EMPLOYMENT FLOORSPACE
In recent years approximately 40,000 square feet of office space has been lost to Permitted Development, further weakening the town centre’s capability to provide employment opportunities and to support retail and business services1. There is now an opportunity to capitalise on providing co-working space accommodating smaller businesses and remote working.
The Future of Towns and Cities post COVID-19 report, published by KPMG in January 20212, confirmed that the pandemic accelerated online shopping and made working from home common practice. It also identified Hemel Hempstead as a town particularly impacted by a fall in commuter numbers, with 27% of jobs predicted to continue being done at home post-COVID. This highlights the need for an increased cultural and leisure offering to attract people to the town.
POCKETS OF DEPRIVATION AND FEAR OF CRIME
The 2021 census data shows pockets of deprivation in the town centre. Dacorum Strategic Crime Assessment for April 2021 to December 2021 shows that the Ward with the highest level of reported Domestic Abuse in Dacorum is Hemel Hempstead Town Centre3. It also has a higher index of acquisitive crime, particularly shoplifting. The absence of night-time activities also contributes to the perception of the town centre as an unsafe place to visit especially when the shops are closed.
LACK OF EVENING ECONOMY
The evening economy has a key role to play in preventing the decline of the town centre and making the area feel safer. Vitality in the town centre can be supported by better planning of evening activities, such as table and chair licenses, hosting and promotion of events, improved lighting and later opening hours. These measures could be encouraged for all types of businesses, especially those in the food, leisure and culture sectors.
DELIVER ON HOUSING DEMAND INCLUDING AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Hemel Hempstead is expected to grow, and the town centre is a good place for residential intensification. The town centre needs to be reconfigured to allow for urban blocks that include residential use as well as spaces for work, and for cultural and community activities, coupled with well-designed street frontages and public realm. With increased density, noise is likely to be a growing issue, therefore new developments should include good acoustic design principles.
CHANGING SOCIAL HABITS AND EVOLVING CONSUMER ECONOMY
Behaviours, habits and expectations have been increasingly orientated towards unique encounters and experiences4. 78% of millennials choose to spend money on experiences rather than things5. A reduction in ownership also corresponds with concepts of “rightsizing”, scaling down, being more
mobile and having more flexible and agile work styles and lifestyles. This opens up opportunities
for the private rented sector homes, bike hire and car club schemes.
ADAPT TO AND MITIGATE CLIMATE CHANGE
Dacorum Borough Council has declared a climate and ecological emergency and made this one of our six corporate priorities. We have pledged to become net zero as an organisation by 2030, and for our housing stock to become net zero by 2050. Physical and economic interventions in the town centre must be built around reducing waste and moving towards a closed-loop circular economy.
1, APPENDIX 3 – Hemel Hempstead Town Centre Data Analysis, March 2021
2, The future of towns and cities post COVID-19, KPMG, Jan 2021 3, Dacorum Strategic Assessment 2022 4, Millennials; fuelling the experience economy. Harris Poll for Eventbrite, 2014
5, B, Joseph Pine II, James H. Gilmore. Welcome to the experience economy, Harvard Business Review, 1998