Well the response to my opinion piece in the Chronicle two weeks ago called “is the town in safe hands?” was not unexpected, although it was a bit personal in the way some people attacked me for my opinions. I don’t mind that! If you are passionate in your beliefs then you must be prepared to fight for them. I tend to be blunt in presenting my opinions but remember they are just my opinions.
Why do I feel so strongly about the amount of money being spent on such things as Guildhall refurbishment, asset and service transfer and so on? It’s simple really, I’m asking the reader to consider what is most important for Dartmouth at this time? How would we have the greatest impact on the town if we invested £500,000 somewhere else?
Personally I believe the most important activity for Dartmouth is in trying to reverse the decline in footfall that has been at a steady -10% pa over the last few years, leaving us with probably 50% less visitors today than we had in 2009. A fact that was referred to by both Councillors Allen, who commented in Council that the “town was dead” and Councillor Rendell. A trend that will have a real negative impact on the economic welfare of the town. The latest figures show a slight recovery at the beginning of this year which is probably down to the Euro exchange rate affecting overseas bookings. Something which we should benefit from. However if we don’t promote Dartmouth then stacations will benefit Dartmouth less than other resorts in the west country. We will publish regular footfall reports during this year to see how this develops. It would be useful if the TIC also published their footfall figures as they have an electronic counter on the door of the Information Center.
My answer to Tim Hailstone, who asked me to explain what I would do to ensure Dartmouth’s future is that I would work very hard over 12 months to consult with as many businesses as possible to develop a strategic plan and implement a Business Improvement District. This would allow the businesses of Dartmouth to invest in marketing and promoting the town nationally like over 200 other Business Improvement Districts throughout the UK. This would result in an increase in footfall through the town, bringing more money into its economy. Oh no! just a minute, I’ve just remembered I’ve already done that haven’t I.
Sadly, that opportunity has now gone, we failed to deliver any of the Business Plan, resulting in the closure of the BID and I am no longer in a position to influence the actions of the towns businesses anymore. It’s worth noting though that 2 out of 3 businesses voted for the 5 year Business plan we drew up over a successful 12 month consultation process, and it still represents a good view of what the majority of businesses would want to invest in if they were asked again and the funds were available. That plan is just as valid today as it was in 2013.
As for getting elected to council Tim! That’s unlikely while Councillors are making the choice, however I did get 485 votes from residents in 2008 when I first stood for Council, more than the other 2 candidates put together, and my views have not changed since then.
The point I am making is that the town is struggling to attract visitors, visitors are the life blood of our tourist economy and if we don’t invest in promoting the town and bringing more visitors here then we will continue to suffer a declining economy which will affect everyone in the town, not just the businesses. (Unless of course you have retired here on a nice fat pension).
The town is already fabulous in its setting, architecture and heritage – improving that is a low priority for me because you can’t improve much on this town today. £350,000 on the Guildhall has not made any noticeable improvement to its visual appeal, which is pretty poor at its best. We just need to tell the whole world how fabulous the town is. I am concerned that so many people in authority have got their heads in the sand and seem to be ignoring the declining footfall problem. The parking problem continues to be a major deterrent for surrounding towns and villages. We have heard so many times that people just will not shop in Dartmouth because of the well known parking issues here. Multi storey car park on Mayors Avenue? Might be a bit unpopular!
Whenever an organisation is struggling for funds, and I accept that central government austerity is having a big impact on local authorities forcing them to make cuts in many difficult areas, then the secret of success is that you use the funds you do have in a way that will have the biggest impact on the fortunes of the town. This inevitably means making tough decisions, but I just feel that attracting more visitors here is the highest priority we have today and I would like to see the Town Council reflecting that by adopting a more strident approach to marketing the town through their new publicity department the TIC. (It’s the only organisation that has the responsibility and capability to market the town now). I am sure I heard someone say at the last council meeting that Dartmouth Guide Ltd (the TIC) is now under the ownership of the Council, please correct me if I am wrong.
The combined spend on the Guildhall refurbishment and the transfer of assets and services is about the same as we planned to spend over 5 years on marketing the town through the BID strategic plan.
That, Tim, is where I would spend the money and I will continue to try and persuade those in power that I am right.
Dartmouth Business News