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Church Stretton Visitor Centre and Transport Hub
Church Stretton Town Council
Church Stretton Visitor Centre and Transport Hub Feasibility Study
Existing Provision 7
Stakeholder Consultation 8 Centre Concept 22 Assessment of Preferred Options 23 Financial Requirements and Funding Sources 25 Next Steps 28 Appendix 1 List of Consultees Appendix 2 Indicative Visitor Centre Designs 1 Introduction There has been a long standing recognition that Church Stretton has considerable potential to enhance its role as a tourist centre. It is the only town in the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and its location in the valley between the Long Mynd and Caer Caradoc makes it an ideal centre for visitors to the area. One component of the enhanced offering is an enlarged and relocated visitor centre, which could ideally also act as a transport hub for the development of sustainable tourism. Geonomics was commissioned by Church Stretton Town Council to examine if it was possible to create a new centre on a basis which is sustainable.
In order to carry out the assignment we examined the proposals to increase sustainable tourism in Church Stretton, looked at the existing visitor centre provision and consulted a wide range of stakeholders on whether they felt a new visitor centre was needed, where it should be located, and what activities should be contained within it. From these discussions we developed a concept of what a new centre should be like.
The next step was to examine in detail potential locations, both in the town and on the A49.
This reflected the division of opinion amongst consultees on which location was most likely to achieve the Town Council’s objectives. The likely financial implications of pursuing each option were examined as well as possible funding sources.
This should enable the Town Council to make an informed judgement on how to progress the creation of a new visitor centre and where to locate it.
2 Background A number of studies of visitor numbers and potential for the development of tourism in the Church Stretton area have been produced in recent years.
Visitor profile A visitor survey of the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was carried out in 2007. In all 317 parties of visitors were interviewed. The study found that 62% of all visitors to the area were day visitors. Of the remainder, 32% stayed in the area overnight and the balance of 6% was made up of people who were touring. Of the day visitors, 84% came from the West Midlands and so did 10% of those staying in the area overnight.
Visitors were mainly adults aged 35-65+, who together accounted for 68% of the total.
However 18% were children aged 0-15 years of age. Those aged 16-34 were under represented, although this may change with the growing popularity of active sports such as mountain biking and hand gliding. No less than 74% of them belonged to social groups ABC1.
The survey found that 67% of visitors had been on a day visit before. Amongst the day visitors, 87% were undertaking a similar trip to their last one. No less than 55% of day visitors had visited the area more than ten times in the last five years. 56% of day visitors came from Shropshire, 20% from the West Midlands conurbation and 3-6% from each of Cheshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Powys. This indicates a very local market. The average length of stay in the area of day and touring visitors was 3 hours 54 minutes, which was less than the Shropshire County average of 4 hours 14 minutes.
Amongst those staying overnight, 53% had stayed over night previously. Overnight UK visitors stayed on average for 4-5 nights. This is split between 63% of visitors taking short breaks of up to three nights as opposed to 37% who were taking breaks of a week or more.
Two thirds of these had booked their accommodation before arriving in the area. They came from a much wider area than day visitors, as is to be expected. The West Midlands accounted for the largest number of overnight visitors at 10%, but there were also significant numbers from the South East and South West of England. There were very few overseas visitors.
The car was the dominant mode of transport, with 94% of visitors arriving this way. Only 2% came by train and 1% by bus or coach.
Walking was the main activity undertaken, accounting for 57% of interviewees. This figure rises to 80% of visitors if all of those who went walking are included. This was followed by general sightseeing (54%) and eating out (48%).
When planning their trip 88% of visitors had been influenced by some form of information, while 43% intended to use information obtained during their trip. Amongst this group, 37% said that they planned to obtain information from a Visitor/Tourist Information Centre.
3 While this survey covered the whole of the AONB area, it is reasonable to assume that this reflects the visitor pattern for Church Stretton since it is the only town in the AONB area.
Moreover 41% of those interviewed said that they had visited Church Stretton during their current visit. However it would be useful to have actual data on the number of visitors to Church Stretton to help in the planning of provision.
The survey indicates the existing market that a new visitor centre would need to serve.
However it also offers an opportunity to influence tourist visits. This could include providing more information about local attractions and activities, hence increasing the length of stay of visitors to the area, encouraging an increased frequency of visits and attracting younger people in their twenties and thirties to the area to undertake active leisure pursuits such as mountain biking.
In April 2008 a Church Stretton and Shropshire Hills Sustainable Tourism Strategy 2008was produced on behalf of a group of local organisations including Church Stretton Town Council, the Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership and the National Trust. It is intended to be a blueprint for collaborative action over the five year period for those involved in tourism and the visitor economy in Church Stretton and the surrounding area. One element of the vision for the future is that Church Stretton will become known nationally as a centre of excellence for all levels of walking and a variety of outdoor activities for people of all ages.
An objective of the strategy is to better co-ordinate and strengthen marketing and promotion activities. Key Actions include promoting walking, mountain biking and other outdoor activities. Another is to ensure a sustainable future for the shuttle bus service which takes walkers into the hills and to link these with the community bus network. The importance of increasing the number of visitors arriving by train and coach is also recognised.
The key action relevant to this study is the proposal to have a key multi-purpose facility, ideally comprehensively meeting visitors’ needs for information on attractions, activities, walking/cycling routes, heritage, transport options and accommodation in Church Stretton.
This reflected comments at a workshop held during the production of the strategy that the Visitor Information Centre needed to be more central and open on Sundays, when many visitors come to Church Stretton. However it is recognised that while this could have a major impact on tourism, the centre needs to be established on a sustainable basis. Other Actions proposed recognise the need to strengthen links with tourism companies as well as with the National Trust in the Carding Mill Valley; as well as other attractions in the area such as Acton Scott Historic Farm and the Discovery Centre in Craven Arms.
While the proposed new Visitor Centre is rightly seen as only one element in a broader
marketing strategy, it should contribute as far as possible to strategy objectives, including:
The more recent Church Stretton-Heart of the Shropshire Hills Marketing Plan 2009-2012 refers to the desirability of a single point within Church Stretton where it is possible to find and obtain information, book and participate in everything both indoors and outdoors such as hang gliding, hiking, off road biking and guided walks. It mentions the need for a more central location and the desirability of it being located alongside a new transport hub.
These views are echoed in the Strategy and Action Plan for Sustainable Tourism in the Shropshire Hills and Ludlow 2011-2016 report, which was produced for the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership and Shropshire Council. It recommends that serious consideration be given to the development of an information centre/ transport hub close to the railway station to support visitor arrivals and transfers.
While the proposed new visitor centre is one element of the tourism strategy, a step change is needed in the marketing of the Shropshire Hills in order to boost visitor numbers and ensure that the potential of the new centre is realised.
Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Church Stretton is the only town in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is hence the logical place for the team to be based. The AONB has an objective of reducing car dependency and of optimising provision and use of public transport. Its funding of the Shuttle Bus is clearly a manifestation of this objective. Church Stretton is the natural centre for this service and will become even more so if the service is extended to Wenlock Edge next year.
However the rail link which Church Stretton provides, as well as the bus service between Shrewsbury and Ludlow, offers the opportunity to develop a transport hub next to the railway station, where the coach park is also located. This is favoured by the AONB, who also see the potential to encourage visitors to Carding Mill Valley to arrive by train and then walk through the town to the Valley, thereby increasing footfall in Church Stretton, while also easing parking problems in the Valley.
Another objective is to raise awareness of the AONB. Co-location with the proposed Visitor Centre could aid in this process.
Transport Infrastructure The transport infrastructure in Church Stretton is limited, despite the desire to create a transport hub. The Shropshire Hills Shuttles take visitors into the hills on weekends and bank holidays between 16th April and 25th September. With the exception of a lunchtime gap the service runs every hour between 9.13 am and 4.13 pm. It is possible to board the first two buses of the day in Shrewsbury and catch one of the last two buses back there at the end of the day. The service to Clun has been discontinued, but next year there is likely to be a 5 service to Wenlock Edge. The service operates from Beaumont Rd at present and does not stop at the railway station. It is funded by a partnership of local bodies including Shropshire Council, the National Trust, Natural England and the AONB Partnership.
The 435 provides a regular bus service from Church Stretton to Shrewsbury and Ludlow.
Frequency is generally hourly. Again the service operates from Beaumont Rd. Journey time to Shrewsbury is around 40 minutes and that to Ludlow slightly less. The service operates Monday to Saturday. It does not run on Sundays.
Church Stretton is located on the main railway line from Manchester to South Wales.
However train times are irregular, with good morning and evening services for people travelling to and from work but with gaps of nearly two hours at some other times of the day.
Gaps on Saturdays are less but still exceed 90 minutes at certain times of the day. On Sundays there are gaps of more than two hours at some times.
At present only 2% of visitors to Church Stretton come by train. Arriva, who operate the rail service, are keen to promote the use of the train, but frequency of trains and lack of demand is a significant obstacle.
The Shropshire Local Transport Plan Provisional Strategy 2011-2026 contains Policy E10:
Supporting sustainable tourism. One aim of the policy is to improve the quality of visitor gateways including railway stations, bus stations and car parks; and enhancing visitor information at these sites.
6 Existing Provision At present the Visitor Information Centre in Church Stretton shares premises with the library in Church Street. It also acts as an information point for Shropshire Council services. It is signed from the town centre, but is not likely to be found unless it is being looked for. The premises are a former school building and are owned by Shropshire Council. The VIC has a manager who works 22.5 hours a week and another member of staff who works the same number of hours. Actual hours worked vary between summer and winter. The aim is to have double manning in the summer and single manning in the winter. In order to ensure double manning, council staff from the Customer Care central unit in Shrewsbury provide back up.
These staff tend to be Church Stretton people or others with interests in walking. Operating costs are £44k annually, of which £40k are staff costs.
The office closes at 5 pm in the summer and 3 pm in the winter. It is not open on a Sunday.
The office is separate from the library and occupies around 14 square metres. This is about one eight of the total space. The VIC has no direct link to the Visitor Economy Team at Shropshire Council and is instead the responsibility of the Customer Care Service. The Customer Care Service is not responsible for the building and no cross charge is paid.
There are 1,900 enquiries monthly during the summer, but this falls to 300/600 in the winter months. Of these, 95% are tourism related. People simply visiting the VIC is greater than this and peaks in July and August with over 4000 visitors. In the winter this drops to 1000/1500.
The VIC sells tickets for the Arts Festival. There is also a retail turnover of around £20,000.
The retail stock is provided by Fielder Green, who also have a similar contract with the Discovery Centre in Craven Arms.