An Interview with Brentford's New Town Centre Manager

Does this mean hope for the high street?

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Patricia Huertas has recently been appointed Town Centre Manager (TCM) Brentford and Hounslow and was able to take time out from a very busy week to introduce herself to yesterday.

The position of TCM has been funded for three years out of S106 money (which is funds that developers pay towards community infrastructure that will be needed to support the impacts of their development). The post is divided roughly into 2 days for Brentford and 3 for Hounslow. There is a limited budget alongside the post which is also from S106 funds so there are restrictions on what it can be spent on. Three years is not a huge amount of time but it is to be hoped that within that timescale the economic value of the post is shown sufficiently well to justify finding further funds to continue its existence.

Patricia has a strong background in tourism and economic development, starting off her studies in tourism development and then working in tourism in her native Spain before moving to England to learn English and to continue her academic studies with a Master's degree in Cultural and Heritage Tourism Development in Sunderland. After that she worked improving the perception of Essex with short term projects such as street art programmes which helped improve the local trade as well as leaving sustainable developments behind and using her economic development skills to help promote international exports and secure inward investment.

Patricia has pre-existing ties of friendship to West London and has moved to the area with her husband in the past month, thereby demonstrating her commitment to the area.

Patricia has been TCM since late April and has spent much of that time assessing the many needs of the high street in order to create a strategic work plan which will show what she hopes to achieve over the three years and how the available finances will be allocated. This workplan will be presented to the local areas committees of Brentford and Hounslow Central respectively on the 21st July and will then have to be approved by Hounslow Cabinet in September.

She is not standing still while waiting for this approval though. Currently Patricia is working on applications for the first round of the Outer London Fund for both Hounslow Central and Brentford which have to be submitted in less than 3 weeks. Up to half a million per location is available for 'lighter touches' to the community and Hounslow council is working hard to get applications in place within a very tight deadline.

One area Patricia is keen to work on is on developing tourism within Brentford. We have a great range of attractions from East to West in Brentford and part of her role is to develop partnerships between the various attractions as well as the restaurants so that Brentford has a whole tourist 'package' that can be promoted. She also wants and needs to develop relationships with nearby tourist areas such as Chiswick and Kew for joint promotion.

Brentford residents have been promised a 'new' high street for more than twenty years and change is not going to happen overnight. However Patricia has already facilitated a meeting between Ballymore and the council to see what progress has been made and how the developers intend to progress the scheme for the area South of the High Street. She will do what she can to help drive Ballymore along.

The fact that the post of TCM sits in Economic Development within the Strategic Planning Department means that Patricia is well placed to liaise between all the various areas and departments of the council to help move projects along, whether large or small.

Some of the other areas to work on are: temporary uses of facilities of the South of the High Street in the same way the Cultivate London are using part of Commerce Road; improving and rebuilding the relationship between the high street retailers and the Council; bringing in investment; encouraging people who work around the A4 to come south to Brentford; looking at the public realm.

An example of the latter will be the first visible change that Patricia is bringing to Brentford; this is car park signage. It doesn't sound exciting but in 3 months or so we will have a number of new signs in Brentford pointing to car parks that visitors would not notice otherwise bringing a simple but useful advance that will help support trade.

Patricia says that her role in Brentford is made easier by the many voluntary groups already in existence such as the High Street Steering Group, Brentford Chamber of Commerce and Brentford Community Council, to name but a few. This means that there is already a degree of infrastructure in place to enable communication and co-operation between the community and the council.

This no longer exists in Hounslow which has no collective voice for the town centre businesses or a town centre partnership which makes her job more difficult although she is working with Hounslow's master planner to finish a major detailed plan for Hounslow in November which, once approved, should hopefully get Hounslow moving too.

Patricia will continue to keep this website informed as to her progress over the next three years and we wish her well.

Ruth Cadbury, Brentford ward councillor and Deputy Leader commented "Having Patricia  is a real boost to the Town Centre, as she can build on the work between Councillors and the High Street businesses to get some tangible improvements to both how the High Street looks and get some more activates going that will attract more shoppers and visitors."

June 24, 2011

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