THE COUNCIL spent £10,000 on a survey to learn how best to revive the high street and save the marketplace – only to be told “the world has changed” and shoppers prefer big shops and bars.

A review of attitudes towards High Wycombe’s market and high street revealed people prefer local restaurants and bars, or spending their money at the Eden Shopping Centre – prompting one councillor to say, “We are trying to turn back the clock”.

The “key findings” are from a study conducted by retail, market and development specialists, Quarterbridge.

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Some 1,126 people were polled between February and March this year, before the lockdown came into force.

The survey’s purpose is to understand public “opinions and usage” of the market and the wider town centre.

Despite many people confessing they “never” use the market, 79 per cent still insisted it was “important” for Wycombe.

During a High Wycombe Town Committee meeting, on Tuesday, September 22, Labour Cllr Rafiq Raja said the council is, “trying to recreate something, but the world has changed”.

He added: “Would somebody like to tell me – what exactly would you go to the high street for?

“The only reason I go is to the bank or to walk through to Eden. There’s really no other reason for anyone to go into the high street to buy anything of use.

“What exactly are we offering people? Our survey says people want to have the facility but only if there’s something useful to buy.”

He recommended allocating half the high street for trade and the other half for public events to drum up interest.

“Quite frankly, I think it might be beyond us to recreate the 60s and 70s when people needed to go to the high street,” he said.

His sentiments were echoed by Conservative Cllr Wendy Mallen, who said: “We want to have a market where people don’t go anymore.

“We’ve made a problem for ourselves… I think we are trying to turn back the clock on what we’ve messed up.”

Wycombe Independent Cllr Julia Wassell said the results are not “particularly significant”. Adding: “The high street is never going to attract footfall, now – unless there are events. You need to put the market where the footfall is, and the footfall is near Eden.

“Unless you move the market… I cannot see how you’re going to generate footfall. You need to put it under people’s noses.”

Economic development officer, Jacqueline Ford, who presented the findings, said members needed to look beyond the market “in isolation” and think about “the town centre and the offer, and how we curate that space”.

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Labour Cllr Khalil Ahmed said he felt “really embarrassed” just ten regular store holders made up the market and that an “external source” was necessary to “revive” it.

He urged cheaper parking, or “dispensations or incentives”, to encourage greater footfall. He also recommended “concessions on, or even free” gazebos for market traders.

When asked about the cost of the report, Ms Ford told Cllr Ahmed: “We wanted to go to an external, recognised source for this. The cost of the report was £10,000, which was the budget we had allocated.”

Conservative Cllr Tony Green agreed with Cllr Ahmed on this issue of parking, saying people use the shopping centre car park and “never venture” into town.

He recommended Easton Street as a viable option with “special” Saturday fees, which Ms Ford said was a “good consideration”.

Cllrs Wendy Mallen, Matt Knight, and Brian Pearce also agreed other parking options should be explored.

Cllr Raja recommended making Duke Street carpark “free of charge” on Saturdays.

An update on the market investigation is expected on November 24.