Mayor announces plans for St Neots Market Square in new column
Cllr Stephen Ferguson
- Credit: SNTC
If you live in St Neots, or if you have visited recently, you will have probably noticed that our beautiful Market Square is no longer an ugly car park.
What might not be immediately obvious, is that this pedestrianisation is the first step in a much bigger plan to restore the Market Square to its former glory as the commercial and cultural heart of the town.
There have been weekly markets in Market Square since at least 1130 when St Neots was granted a royal charter by King Henry I.
Originally, the market would have consisted of just a few stalls outside the walls of the medieval Priory. Eventually, its success led to the construction of one of the biggest market squares in the East of England.
Typically, the recent pedestrianisation was poorly communicated to residents (and indeed councillors). We all awoke one morning to find barriers blocking vehicular entrance to the square, with cobblestones unsympathetically daubed in luminous yellow paint.
Understandably this caused some confusion and annoyance, amongst drivers who suddenly felt deprived of their favourite car parking space. The square has, after all, been a car park for as long as anyone can remember.
So I wanted to use this column to explain the “bigger picture”. You see, in a rare moment of complete agreement, CCC, HDC and SNTC are all working together to redevelop and reinvigorate the Market Square as part of the Future High Street Fund investment for the town.
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Although the final details are not confirmed, the central focus of the bid is the permanent pedestrianisation of the square and the purchase and redevelopment of the currently dilapidated Old Falcon which overlooks it. Last summer we had a glimpse of the sort of “European cafe culture” that is beginning to emerge now that the cars are gone.
It’s already paying dividends, we heard last week that people behind the successful Olmo Lounge in Huntingdon are investing £850k to renovate the empty former Dorothy Perkins unit into a swanky bar-restaurant.
Similarly, the Farmer’s Market has flourished since the parking was removed, growing from just five stalls to more than 25. On those Saturdays when the market is in town, you can feel the buzz.
It’s almost as if this sleepy market town has rediscovered its soul.
Of course, there are challenges ahead. For the scheme to succeed, we need to occupy the square with events, cultural and community activities all year round. A similar initiative in Hitchin has led to a resurgence of their town centre, led by an influx of independent traders who have set up around their recently pedestrianised square.
I am convinced that reclaiming the Market Square is the key to the future success of our high street. In 20 years, we will struggle to convince our grandchildren that we ever let people park their cars on our historic Market Square.