Last week I wrote to Dartmouth Town Council asking them to debate the threat to the towns economic welfare resulting from the declining visitor numbers reported weekly on this website. With regular measurements of around 30% decline, I am concerned at the impact this is having on the town’s economy and the effect this will have on the community and employment prospects.
At last nights Full Council meeting the Councillors firstly refused to accept that there has been a decline in visitors to Dartmouth, and secondly that they would not be prepared to discuss the problem at their General Purposes committee.
At the same time Councillor Cook, last years Mayor, made a personal attack on me, accusing me of being the person in charge, and therefore responsible for the failure of the BID, who has been “banging on about footfall” ever since! He also suggested that the Springboard footfall figures do not agree with the TIC footfall counter, which shows that there has not been a decline. He said he does not believe there is a decline, and went on to state the only way to determine the effect on the town was to ask all businesses for their turnover figures . He also argued that every retail high street in the UK is suffering so we should accept a decline in ours!
A disappointing response from a Council whose number one strategic objective is, I quote from their strategy document:
“DARTMOUTH TOWN COUNCIL
STRATEGY DOCUMENT 2014
Our strategy is based on three main objectives:
1. THE ECONOMY
Dartmouth Town Council wishes to support the economic growth of the town to
ensure its future prosperity. This means recognising that tourism is the main
driver of the local economy and supporting its further development, while at the
same time encouraging the development of alternative sectors of economic
I attended the meeting in the hope that I could participate in a constructive debate. Unfortunately, I was not permitted to speak.
Therefore, I will use this website to comment on both my proposal and the Town Council’s response.
I accept that a single camera measuring footfall in one location does not give a complete picture of the activity in Dartmouth and I have asked our County and District Councillors to support my analysis by providing other measures. Namely,
- road level vehicle tracking that is already installed
- ferry traffic data
- Park And Ride data, and others
So far nothing has been forthcoming from either Council. However you do not need a camera to see the decline first hand on the streets
In the absence of those other measures, I believe that the big year on year decline measured on the Quay in Dartmouth (look just inside left of the Fudge shop window to see the camera) is sufficient for the Council to respond to a problem that is central to their long term Strategy. This should include gathering other traffic data to understand what is really happening. Ie: what is the impact of the supermarkets at the top of town, the loss of high street banking and our hospital, and how are they connected to the reduced footfall? A discussion that I feel is vital for the future of the town and its prosperity.
Finally I want to respond to Cllr Cook’s comments at last night’s Council Meeting, to which I was not given the opportunity to respond:
- I was not a member of the BID Board or involved when the BID was closed.
- If the TIC footfall figures challenge the Springboard results then please send them to me so I can publish them alongside other measurements. Monthly figures for the last 5 years should be enough.
- Cllr. Cook displays commercial naivety if he thinks businesses would readily tell outsiders what their turnover is. Even the British Retail Consortium recognise that and claim that “footfall is the only way of measuring retail activity empirically”.
- Every retail high street is suffering, with some exceptions. However, I maintain we should not be measured as a retail high street but as a tourist destination, as described in the Town Councils strategy. Tourism in the UK has boomed this year because of the hot summer and weak exchange rate. Overseas visitors to the UK have increased, rail traffic to St Ives, for instance, has gone up 20%. So you are comparing Dartmouth with the wrong base. In any case some non tourist towns are responding with novel changes to their town centers and achieving good results.
“Key Performance Indicator – footfall: Footfall is the key to
understanding a place. The measurement of footfall should gauge the
number and frequency of visitors to the area defined locally as the high
street or town centre, not just visitors to shops or particular attractions.”
My conclusion from this experience is that Dartmouth Town Council seems not to understand how seriously the economic impact is effecting the town. There is no understanding how footfall impacts a community in other ways - like Bank closures etc. The Businesses are the heart of a community pumping the money around its arteries keeping it going. Ignore them at your peril.
If the Town Council does not respond to this challenge then their legacy will not be a good one.