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'Business leaders need to unite to drive economic future of Wycombe'
BUSINESS leaders need to unite to drive the economic future of Wycombe town centre and put the framework in place now to achieve that goal.
That is the view of Oliver O’Dell, Chief Executive of the High Wycombe Business Improvement District Company, who believes a shared economic vision must sit alongside the high profile long-term Wycombe Masterplan.
Mr O’Dell said the town needs to be more decisive on joined-up thinking for the High Street and Frogmoor, and Wycombe must make better use of its Purple Flag status to encourage new investment into the night-time economy.
He said: "It is well over five years since the town committed to a new shopping centre and we must continue to build on five-year aspirations.
"The Wycombe Masterplan and public realm work is great but we must also be targeting the right investors to secure a dynamic long-term offer for the town."
Mr O’Dell said he believed the town centre needs to be "more eclectic" and while talk about the future is welcome, the time is now for business chiefs to act on issues such as Frogmoor and empty units.
He said: "Everyone wants to see Frogmoor change but doesn’t want to be the first to commit. If we truly believe that a café culture is the way forward, why don’t we test the theory?
"Eighteen months ago everyone said that we couldn’t build a temporary garden in this space. We did, and the world didn’t end. People tend to respond positively to action. It’s inaction that causes frustration."
The BIDCo, in the second year of its five year term, has been busy laying the foundations to underpin the future economic prosperity of the town.
Mr O’Dell has highlighted empty commercial space as a key issue for debate.
He said "Filling empty units is the ultimate goal but sometimes getting to that point can be complicated and frustrating.
"Errant landlords, companies in administration and ill-prepared potential tenants can all delay a new unit opening up."
BIDCo has a programme in place to address those issues by supporting new businesses, collating information about empty units and promoting the town to investors.
That sits alongside the work of Wycombe District Council - which purchased two long-vacant units in the town last month to free up locked-in leases.
Mr O’Dell has also called for a change of perspective - instead of counting empty units, he wants shoppers and business leaders to look at the positives of new openings, renewed leases and new business partnerships.
He said, "We still have a long way to go but now is the time to think creatively about the future offer of our town. We cannot afford to be constrained by traditional thinking that separates out different activities.
"Our economic future will ultimately be a mix of retail, services, entertainment, residential and business in its widest sense. This must be planned for now."
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