Our front page story last week painted a bleak – and largely inaccurate – picture of Clitheroe town centre, according to Coun. Simon Hore, deputy leader of Ribble Valley Borough Council and a former Mayor of the borough.
We reported on the formation of an independent body, Clitheroe Town Action Group (C-TAG), which aims to revitalise the town centre. One C-TAG member, prominent local entrepreneur Kevin Horkin – who is also Clitheroe’s Mayor – said the town is in danger of becoming a “zombie high street” following the closure of 12 businesses in the past six months.
Among other measures, C-TATG is calling on the borough council to freeze, then reduce, local business rates to attract new retailers.
This week Coun. Hore, who is chairman of the borough council’s Economic Development Working Group, said C-TAG’s negative comments could harm the town.
“Clitheroe is a wonderful market town within the Ribble Valley and what a pity it is that we are not celebrating that all the time, “ said Coun. Hore. “I am sure that most local people are justly proud of what the town and borough achieves, and that is why we receive so many visitors to Clitheroe and the Ribble Valley.
“I just feel saddened that there are those who feel it necessary to knock what we have now and what is being achieved. Talk of ‘Zombie High Streets’ is very disappointing, and frustrating, and cannot be good for existing businesses in the town. It does not, I believe, give a true reflection of what we have – award winning shops, fantastic restaurants and cafés, a vibrant night-time economy; all in a historic town in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“Wow! – what more could you want. When we compare ourselves to other towns and cities in East or Central Lancashire we are doing well and should shout out that message.”
Coun Hore conceded: “I agree there are always areas for improvement. Yes we have vacant shops, but that will always happen. The past three or four years have been tough, particularly in the retail sector, but it is consumers – us – that are expecting lower prices and are happy to shop around until they find them.
“Yes rents could be lower, and if landlords insist on higher rents then let us ensure that they are paying business rates on empty properties to encourage them to rent them out – not reduce business rates if they are empty.
“Yes we would all like lower business rates, but suggesting that RVBC has some influence is not realistic. Why just Clitheroe? All businesses will want a fair share of any reductions across the borough. The crucial point, that is not stated, is that RVBC collects the rates, but it does not set rateable values, nor does it keep the money collected – it goes straight to central government.
“Aside from these issues we have a increasingly popular market town and businesses that want more customers, not less,” insisted Coun. Hore.
“As Chairman of the Economic Development Working Group for RVBC I have noted the formation of the Clitheroe Town Action Group (C-TAG). However it does not enjoy the support of the Town Council or Chamber of Trade.
“It is furthermore a self-styled, self-appointed group with no elected or appointed authority, no clear terms of reference and ‘chaired’ by a borough councillor (Ged Mirfin) who doesn’t represent Clitheroe.
“RVBC Economic Development Working Group have discussed Town Centres – not only Clitheroe – and agreed that the town and parish councils be encouraged to take the lead in creating town/village plans
“Various groups have been formed in the past few years across the borough to develop village or town plans. Longridge has a town team, Whalley, through its parish council, is setting up an action group.
“Villages have done the same. Chipping and Leagram parish councils developed a village plan in 2011 where they consulted with over 20 locals organisations from churches to businesses to youth groups; it was very successful and several of the objectives have already been achieved with grants and considerable local fundraising providing major leisure facilities for the village.
Looking ahead, Coun. Hore stressed the borough council was laready hard at work on several schemes to regenerate Clitheroe and the wider area: “RVBC has recently announced a project with Barnfield Construction to consider options to develop the market site in the town centre.
“RVBC has also previously announced its wish to look at land for employment purposes and this is actively being researched. The Economic Development Working Group are also keen to look at policies that encourage and do not hinder rural businesses, whether that be tourism or farming which are significant sectors of employment in the borough.
“There is also the Enterprise Zone that will bring added employment to the area and a consultation paper from Lancashire County Council on Transport and Highways Strategy for Ribble Valley that will improve access into the borough over the longer term.
“If we want visitors to be put off when they read the local press, then it seems to me that this publicity will achieve just that by talking about ‘Zombie High Streets’. I recall a successful national jeweller who in the early 1990s told everyone that he was selling rubbish and he almost lost his business within months.
“So please C-TAG, as ‘marketeers’ let’s celebrate and not demolish what you have and work together with the Town Council and organisations in the town to develop a plan that can have community ownership.”