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Residents attend mayor Dorothy Thornhill's briefing on 'the state of Watford'
Watford residents packed out the borough council’s chamber for an update on "the state of Watford" from the town’s mayor, Dorothy Thornhill.
The meeting, held in the town hall yesterday, included updates on the major development projects in the town, including the health campus and the Croxley Rail Link, as well as details on unemployment and commerce.
Mayor Thornhill started off by stating that unlike other briefings held over the years, she would not be talking about the budget because it's "boring" and there wasn’t anything to discuss.
A survey from the town’s residents’ panel showed 83 per cent of residents were proud to live in the town and 91 per cent were satisfied by the council's way of running things.
Another survey was conducted on the hopes people had for Watford in 2017, and revealed recurring themes such as fewer empty shops, good employment prospects and better public transport.
On the subject of empty shops, mayor Thornhill said: "If you own a shop in the High Street I can’t make you rent it out more than anyone else can.
"The fact is a lot of our shops are owned by pension companies held offshore.
"Business rates are part of the problem, we are almost as highly rated as London, which puts people off. We collect £60 million in rate and get back £3 million."
In terms of economy, 82 per cent of residents are economically active, and Watford is in the top 20 business locations in the UK.
There are 1.6 people on job seeker’s allowance for every vacancy in the town’s Job Centre and of the 18 per cent of economically inactive residents, 80 per cent don't want a job.
The meeting then moved on to the high-profile regeneration taking place on the length of the High Street, starting with top of the town and the new pond.
Mayor Thornhill said: "Few people tell me they love the green slimy water and concrete surround. People say the pond is horrible, but it’s our pond and it makes us different to other towns.
"The top of the town is the bit which lets us down, while the lower part is improving. The development will be finished by spring next year whether you love it or you hate it.
"If we don’t invest in it, nobody will."
Charter Place and the new market site in TJ Hughes were discussed next.
Mayor Thornhill said: "I was watching television one night and there was a really grim bit of drama where someone was being jumped on, and I realised it was filmed in Charter Place.
The new market should also be open in summer 2014, and will be outdoors but under a permanent canopy.
Ms Thornhill said she received "abuse" for supporting historic plans for an outdoor market, and then more abuse for dropping the plans, stating that you can’t please everybody.
In terms of major challenges for the town, the mayor suggested parking and traffic congestion remain towards the top of the list.
She added: "However, if you find somewhere where the parking is free and the roads are not congested, you probably wouldn’t want to live there."
Intu, which owns the town’s Harlequin Shopping Centre, has told the council that free parking would not benefit customer footfall.
The mayor said she would be keen for a better deal for long stay parking, to benefit people working in the town.