I had a walk around Longton last week while I was in Stoke-on-Trent, having moved away 6 weeks before, it was for the first time as a visitor rather than a resident. I spent best part of an hour walking around and looking at the old buildings, buildings that need some love, care and attention.
For the 12 years I lived in Longton I accepted these old buildings because I loved the place I lived in, that meant that I could see through the broken façades and imagine what they were like in the heyday of the potteries, (assuming you could see them through the smog and smoke from the potteries that help build the town). I always hoped that something would be done in Longton to make it better and return it to its former glory. Granted some money has been spent on upgrading and repairing some buildings, like the Methodist Hall, and others down The Strand, but it's not enough. Some buildings had fallen in to such a state of disrepair over recent years that they had to be pulled down.
Looking with my newly found visitors eyes, I saw that the recession had really bitten in to Longton, the only places that seemed to be doing well were the Job Centre, the pie shop, the pawn brokers and £1 bakery. The smokers cabin was also doing a brisk trade. As I walked around it dawned on me that other than the aforementioned places, there is no real focal point in Longton any more, there isn't anywhere to gravitate to. I walked past the front of the Town Hall and saw this sign pinned to the doors, which really sums Longton up now, a town with no soul.
Around 50 years ago the chief planner of Stoke-on-Trent came up with the idea of a precinct for Longton, the idea was to pull all the buildings between King Street & Stafford Street down and to create a modern precinct with large windows to the shop fronts, maybe a plan not to dissimilar to the City Sentral development plans of today. My good friend and potteries historian Fred Hughes told me that the idea of pulling down all these buildings, old and new was a work of genius for the time. Sometimes the old has to make way for the new, it's that thing called progress. Unlike a lot of similar building projects from the 60's, Longton's Bennett Precinct is still there although the occupancy is probably around the 40-50% mark today.
Lack of investment in the town and a City Council who seem to be infatuated with the idea of moving the civic centre back in to Hanley to create a Central Business District on the site of the old council offices and building another shopping centre, which they are hoping will cure the potteries of all known ills. If it ever happens, I doubt that it will have the positive effect that the current incumbents of office believe it will, sadly all I think it will achieve is a massive debt for the people of the city for years to come. Whatever they do I think it will be to the detriment of the other five towns. If the City Sentral development ever does get off the ground, it will suck the remaining life out of the other towns, shops will close, buildings will fall in to disrepair and this will bring antisocial behaviour and vandalism to town. One thing you can be sure of is the people who have been living and shopping in these five towns won't suddenly all start going to Hanley to do their shopping.
I really do hope to see Stoke-on-Trent rising phoenix like from the ashes of the former Pits n Pots but it would be much better if it were a whole city approach rather than the current ill thought out one town approach.