By Peter Tremayne
Towns in Cornwall have been given details of the financial help they can expect for “regeneration.” Penzance is the big winner – with almost everywhere north of Truro feeling like a loser.
Most of the multi-million-pound cash for Penzance is coming from central government, following considerable “technical assistance” from Cornwall Council.
Meanwhile other towns in Cornwall will have to scrap among themselves for a share of a relatively tiny Town Centre Revitalisation Fund which County Hall set up in February. Most towns will be lucky to get £150,000.
Penzance will next week try to get another £25 million from Whitehall’s Future High Street Fund. This will be in addition to the pre-election £25 million “Town Deals” money which the government offered to splash on each of Penzance, St Ives, Camborne and Truro – much to the anger of towns in the North and East of Cornwall.
The Cornwall Council Town Centre Revitalisation Fund is unlikely to deliver more than £150,000 per town – which one town clerk described as “peanuts.” Towns such as Padstow, Wadebridge, Camelford, Bude, Launceston, Liskeard, Saltash, Looe and Bodmin all feel that they need much more.
“£150,000 will get us some pressure-washing of grimy buildings and a few hanging baskets,” said one town hall official. “We could also buy more litter bins and a few tins of paint to spruce up bus shelters and public toilets. It might look good for a month or two. But we need serious money for jobs. This is pathetic.”
Meanwhile Penzance has been invited to bid for a further £25 million from central government, from the Future High Street Fund. The bid deadline is next Friday (5th June.) A year ago Camborne, St Austell and Newquay were all told that they had not been successful with their initial pitch to the Future High Street Fund, leaving Penzance alone to make progress.
Cornwall Council, and central government, have been studying ways to breathe new life in to town centres as retail shopping habits switch increasingly away from traditional High Streets and towards online and home-delivery.
County Hall has already given Penzance, St Ives, Camborne and Truro between £140,000 and £160,000 each simply to develop their bids for the £25 million Town Deals. They are now setting up Town Boards charged with submitting their “Deal” bids later this year.
Part of the Cornwall Council £4million has already been allocated for those towns which have Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in place. The BIDs are controversial because they allow self-appointed local firms to influence public-sector investment, often competing for attention with long-standing local chambers of commerce and elected town councils.
Eight BIDs will share £556,000, including both Newham and Truro, which has again angered towns in the North and East of Cornwall who feel the creation of a separate Newham BID in 2013 simply allowed Truro to double its influence.
Other BIDs which will benefit are St Austell, Newquay, Falmouth, Camborne, St Ives – and, again, Penzance. There are no BIDs in the North and East of Cornwall.
Tim Dwelly (Penzance East) and Jim McKenna (Penzance Promenade) are respectively the cabinet portfolio holder and scrutiny committee chair who oversee the way Cornwall Council allocates its own support for towns, and how County Hall assists individual towns pitch for central government funds.
In addition, Redruth is hoping to benefit from a separate bid to Historic England to help revitalise its town centre as part of a total £3.7 million investment.
But it is the way in which towns in the North and East of Cornwall have been left to scramble for a thin slice of Cornwall Council’s Town Centre Revitalisation Fund which is angering local councillors. Nearly 13% of the original £4million pot has already gone to the BIDs.
A County Hall officials’ report said: “Cornwall’s towns and high streets, once dominated by retail shops, are changing fast in response to changing shopping habits, new lifestyles and working patterns.
“We are not alone; this is a national, indeed international, trend. Our settlement pattern is made up of one small City and an unusually large number of dispersed market towns and most are facing huge change on their high streets, with traditional retail in decline as a new ‘digital industrial revolution’ changes the way people shop and spend their time.
“The changes faced on Cornwall’s high streets are not unusual in the UK, but they are exacerbated by additional economic challenges faced in Cornwall, including lower than average pay, geographical remoteness and the seasonality of tourism.
“This change is leading to an increase in the number of empty shops and an increase in the number of charity shops which in turn is leading to reduced foot fall in most of our towns, especially in those that are not in tourism ‘hot spots.’”
Until March the Cornwall Council cabinet portfolio holder, responsible for County Hall’s input into how these various funds are allocated, had been councillor Bob Egerton. Cornwall Council decisions which have boosted Penzance were taken largely during his period of office.
But this cabinet post is now held by councillor Tim Dwelly, who is writing to town councils throughout Cornwall with details of what they can expect in the months ahead. Mr Dwelly is the councillor for Penzance East.
The committee which scrutinises Mr Dwelly’s work is chaired by councillor Jim McKenna, who is the councillor for Penzance Promenade.