The Conservative Councillor in charge of town centre regeneration says the Council ‘can only do so much’ to stop big names leaving Kettering.
That of course is true, but the question is are they doing enough? Their latest initiative to increase the footfall in the town centre is for improvements in Meadow Road Park. As welcome as these improvements are, I told the Council “they’re living in cloud cuckoo land if they think that will have an impact on the town centre”.
I agree that there are easy no answers, and the Council cannot set rents or control the level of business rates, but Labour and Conservative Councillors have proven they have different approaches in the past. Up until 2003 when the Conservatives came to power, the Labour Council had worked closely with local business and had offered small amounts of financial support, although most of the help they offered was practical and they worked very closely with the thriving business groups that were active in Kettering at that time.
Almost as soon as the current administration came to power they cut that support and instead took an attitude that it wasn’t the Council’s job to get involved and it was entirely up to business to look after themselves.
I and my Labour colleagues completely disagree! We believe that it is the Council’s job to get involved and they should support local business by taking a leading role, both by looking at funding requirements, and also helping coordinating local businesses and offering them the professional support they need to drive forward changes to bring about future investment.
Town centres are changing, and what our town centres across the Borough will look like in the future is unclear. But it is exactly for this reason that we need to create a vision of what that future will look like and the Council has a pivotal role in that and in bringing together the community as a whole to encourage a debate that will help develop that vision.
The Government recently announced the “Future High Street Fund” that councils could apply to get financial assistance and support for local areas’ plans to make their high streets and town centres fit for the future.
On the back of that national announcement, the following motion was put to last month’s meeting of the Full Council by independent councillors with the full support of Labour:
“This Council will continue to actively lobby and apply for any new funds towards the long-planned town centre(s) regeneration, such as those announced in the Government’s Latest Budget”.
I have no idea whether the Council are working on specific plans to apply for funding from the Future High Street Fund but as far as I’m concerned this should be a priority, partly because it will force the council to engage with the business sector in a much more useful way than it has in the past which in itself would be a good thing and could lead to other potential benefits.
The truth is there are no simple or easy answers but just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it should be ignored.