Grand ambitions: Shropshire Council leader lays out his visions for county
Peter Nutting likes to think big and likes to be involved in ambitious plans – even if those plans sometimes sounds unlikely.
For example, his suggestion in 2017 that Shropshire should be looking at a 20-year plan to set up an airport in the county, with Cosford earmarked as a potential site, was met with no little scepticism.
Councillor Nutting, the leader of Shropshire Council, today accepts the idea of commercial passenger flights is now “unlikely”, but he revealed there is still the possibility of an air freight service from the county.
“It’s not dead,” he says. “But we are doing so many other things we have put that one on the back burner for the moment.”
Councillor Nutting realises that some ideas might not come off, but believes in looking into potential opportunities, no matter how outrageous they may seem.
The Shrewsbury Big Town Plan, for example, was more than a year in the making and is acting as a council blueprint for the the development of the county town over the next two decades.
Some of the more ambitious plans include transforming the entrance to Shrewsbury Station and making it a pedestrian-only area, and creating a one-level public promenade between the town centre and the river.
Now, Councillor Nutting says the council is looking into the potential for a new station on the outskirts of town at Preston Boats roundabout on the A5. The station would connect to Shrewsbury and the West Midlands.
With a tie-in shuttle service into the town centre, it could ease parking and traffic in the town centre itself.
“The reality is we have lots of properties about the town and there’s a bit of a shuffle going on,” says Councillor Nutting. “We are trying to sort out where they all go and what we do with them in the future. It’s quite a high level business thing and there’s a lot of money involved, but if we get it right we think we can transform this town and really push it forward.”
When council representatives visit the international developers’ conference MIPIM in France earlier this year, Cllr Nutting said there was a lot of interest, in particular from hotel companies, about possible moves to Shrewsbury, especially if the Riverside shopping centre is to be demolished.
“A lot of hotel groups are interested in Shrewsbury,” said Cllr Nutting. “We are talking to these groups because we do believe there is scope for at least one, if not two hotels in the town, particular around the Riverside area.
“It’s part of this change in the town as we go forward. We all know that retail in the old fashioned sense isn’t going to work any more so we need to be more of a visitor economy and hotel rooms are quite basic in getting that working and going forward.”
Mark Barrow is Shropshire Council’s Director of Place, and his brief covers a wide range of council services, including economic growth, highways and transport, planning, waste and recycling, libraries and museums.
“The way to think of it is that what we are planning is the great day out,” he says. “There are 6.2 million people who live within an 90 minute journey time of Shrewsbury, so the question is how do we turn Shrewsbury into a great day out. It’s not just about retail, it’s about diversification and bringing lots of things to life.”
One of the things Cllr Nutting says he is keen to do is to get the town to make better use of the river.
“The Riverside shopping centre and the North West Relief Road can all impact together around how we deal with Smithfield Road going forward,” he says. “There is one restaurant there that backs onto the river, but could we have three or four of those?”
There are plans to bring Shrewsbury Castle back to life and open it back up to the town by opening it out to the town by cutting back some of the nearby foliage.
“We almost turn our back on the castle,” says Councillor Nutting.
The council also insists it’s not just focussing on Shrewsbury however, pointing towards its involvement in setting up an aviation engineering academy at Cosford, the redevelopment of Ludlow’s Assembly Rooms, the Marches Centre of Manufacturing and Technology at Bridgnorth, a possible new doctors surgery in Whitchurch and work on Oswestry’s Mile End roundabout.