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Loss of identity

I have been noticing a lot of new planning applications in Wrexham of late for the conversion of existing town centre buildings to accommodation, for the most part, single person flats with ‘shared’ facilities. To be honest, I think its great that the deserted town centre is actually becoming alive again after the demise of the small shop-based market economy that Wrexham was once vibrant with. However, when reading some of the applications, many of them are based on destroying the fabric of a once architecturally rich town, demolishing well-constructed inherently beautiful buildings and replacing them with modern quickly thrown up identikit blocks of unremarkable, unlovable sheds.


The root of the issue is Wrexham, like so many other towns across the country, have town centres whose reason to be have been destroyed by the advent of out-of-town centre supermarkets and large retail developments which isolated traditional shops and eventually killed them off by the reduction in traditional footfall and the changing of shopping habits.


And now we are left with the detritus of cheap facades on properties for the most part owned by ‘landlords’ who are in fact collectives of investors with no care for the towns their properties now blight. And they are even less likely to put money in to properties to tidy them up, apart from the lowest amount possible to keep them legally safe. The value is actually in the footprint of the building, it being cheaper to knock a centuries old building down and replace it with a modern, cheaply thrown together box.


The simplest of rules to enforce would be the preservation of the historic facades and incorporation in to any replacement building, but as we’ve seen in the past as with, for example the old Vegetable Market, there is only lip service paid, and never any enforcement. That façade was left to simply rot away until it became a public danger and had to be demolished.


Was this on purpose to allow a ‘clean site’? Of course, not (insert cynical laughter here), but, strangely, this happens time after time. And there is yet a building that has been built in the last 30 years or so that has any architectural merit at all, nothing that you could look at and be proud it was part of your home town.

We could have had a beautiful, vibrant town with just a little effort, but until someone leads from the front and enforces the wishes of Wrexham people we are travelling down the same route as most towns, and as time progresses, it will come to the stage when every town will be an identical copy of another. Simply giving the town its identity back by removing ugly, modern facades, allowing ground floors to be shops again but with the added value that each building would be different, have its own identity, rather than just a continuous appearance of flat faced glass boxes that all look the same.

The more we lose, the less there will be to fight for, and, to be honest, it appears those that do care are a dying breed, rather like the beauty of Victorian and Edwardian architecture that used to abound in our town. There are of course a good few towns whose town planners have appreciated the long term value of preservation of uniqueness. I haven’t seen any evidence of this in my locality.


Eventually, the growing influence of online shopping will create a vacuum that will reverse the doughnut process that moved shopping out of town, with even those modern churches to the religion of mass shopping falling away. You only have to look at the Eagle’s Meadow white elephant to see this happening, its like visiting a wind tunnel most days. Now is the time to establish the path to the future. People will return to town shopping if shops are there, especially if they are living in the town, with probably no means of visiting the supermarkets miles out. And you will also have the bonus of tourism, a proper Welsh marketing town with the Parish Church as a centre point, unique buildings with individual shops offering an identity worth travelling to see.


And the annoying thing is, its all so achievable, but we just aren’t moving, simply going with the flow. Stand up and be counted, question developments, force preservation, have a vision for the future, because its your descendants that will feel the loss the most, they will have no chance to reverse the process of destruction that is in motion, and has almost a life of its own.

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