Several years have passed since Wakefield Council levelled half of the city stretching from Brook Street down to the old gasworks, diverting Marsh Way and knocking down (among others) the 1960s market hall, the Tut & Shive pub, Marsh Way multistory car-park, the Jacob’s Well Tavern pub, and assorted bits of factory and warehouse around Duke Of York Street. Despite the disasters which befell the investment company leaving a big muddy hole in the ground for the best part of a year and a half, Trinity Walk opened its doors a month ago today and let the scathing public in.
Well, it’s not bad: it’s clean, it’s tidy (not for long I’m sure but let’s enjoy the moment), it’s big and airy and convenient from the bus station. Very few of the original lines of roads and walkways have been kept from the old market so it can be quite strange when retracing ‘where things used to be’ (for instance, Pizza Express is sited where my grandfather’s local butcher “Our Benny” was). Most of the diverted Marsh Way area is now a huge labyrinthine underground car-park for instance.
A good shopping experience then? Hmm, so-so. It’s blustery and the whole thing acts as a wind tunnel; even on calm days it’s breezy and when I popped down on Saturday you could quite easily have landsurfed down the main concourse. I’ve not sat on the Costa Coffee plaza yet but I can imagine it getting a bit too cold in winter. Parking’s a bit of a nightmare first time round due to the car-park layout. Usual chain-stores, nothing greatly interesting or that you can’t get elsewhere but useful when you need an outfit in a pinch. There’s only one shop there which I would consider to be anywhere near ‘independent’ (but which is still a chain of course), a clothing outlet called ‘Pulp’ who flog vintage t-shirt designs, tight jeans, hoodies and badges – the stuff the youth (and I) wear. Nice people.
Inevitably, the rest of Wakefield has suffered as a consequence of Trinity Walk’s birth: although we have a couple of new ‘big’ shops (Debenhams, H&M, the return to Wakefield of ‘Next’ after a long absence for instance) migrants have come from elsewhere throughout the city. Sainsbury’s move from Ings Road has left the other end of Wakefield much quieter despite the proliferation of retail park units down that end (and made Ings Road Roundabout less congested). The removal of Body Shop, Top Man, Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins and others have left the Ridings Centre little more than a shell for bargain shops and (bizarrely) a Christian Bible Study Centre. Shops have simply moved around – contents may settle in transit – and it feels an odd juxtaposition walking from the closed and abandoned retail units of Teall Street onto the clean-cut and well-lit lines of Trinity Walk itself. I suspect if BHS, Primark and M&S moved elsewhere it’d put the nail in the coffin of the Ridings Centre, and it’s pretty telling that a press release published in local paper Wakefield Express tried to jolly everyone up as they’d had small units Holland & Barrett and the Clarks store extend their lease. Woo.
In talking to some of the stallholders and shopkeepers around the Trinity Walk area it would seem the footfall has changed quite substantially too. Mr Allum the butcher says it’s made a heck of a change, positive news after several years of being stuck at the end of Brook Street ‘not quite on the way to anywhere’. Reports from the outdoor market stallholders is good but still very much a fine-tuning affair: Mark Venables the grocer moved his stall about 20ft into the main market and saw an increase in sales being directly on the path from the crossing to the bus station. Conversely the indoor market has seen a drop because nobody’s going ‘via’ the building (the food hall of course has persistently vacant units and we still don’t have a fishmonger but I’ve done that to death over the years). Maybe that will change when it rains.
More generally, it fascinates me if you count from the birth of my eldest (which almost coincided with the first big demolition – that of the old bus station), Wakefield has changed more in the past 10 years than in my entire lifetime: a new market, a huge new shopping centre, a bus station, new council offices at Merchant Gate, the Hepworth Gallery and waterfront to name but a few. In the next couple of years we’ll have the new railway station, more council offices, the controversial move of Wakefield Museum, and the new swimming pool (construction began today). Some years ago my father moved to Australia and (save for a couple of flying visits for family reasons) hasn’t been back since; I’m not sure he’d recognise the place, let alone drive round it.
Ultimately though it boils down to this: Wakefield wants to be a big city, a huge player, but with Leeds so close and no University (yes that does matter in my opinion) it’s always going to struggle not to come a poor second to the city facilities offered a few junctions up the M1 – and if Leeds is having problems filling the market and shopping units, and has the same shops over that way, what hope for Wakefield and Trinity Walk? Wakefield might just be a bit too small for it.