Thursday, 21st August 2014

Town dropping portas cash bid

MARKET Drayton town centre has been dealt a fresh blow after it emerged councillors have scrapped plans to bid for support from a £1 million rescue fund fronted by retail guru Mary Portas.

The town council considered preparing a bid at a meeting in February, but now the plans have been shelved because getting it ready by the deadline of March 31 would be a drain on staff time.

Roger Hughes, Shropshire Council member for Market Drayton West and a town councillor, added it had been decided not push ahead with the bid as the chances of winning were slim when hundreds of towns nationwide are thought to be bidding.

Under the Government-backed Portas Pilots scheme, 12 winning towns will get expert help from Mary Portas and her team to breathe new life into ailing town centres.

It follows her report on the state of the high street, which was commissioned by the Government last year.

Towns like Oswestry, Newport and Whitchurch are preparing bids for the Portas cash. Business leaders in Whitchurch said they decided to launch a last minute bid on learning that Market Drayton had pulled out.

Councillor Hughes said preparing a bid for the Portas scheme, which requires applicants to make a video, would have been a drain on Shropshire Council officers’ time when they are already working on how best to spend £425,000 coming to the town from Shirehall’s Market Towns Regeneration Project.

He said: “The likelihood of winning this money was pretty low as so many towns are bidding.

“We could not justify the officer time on doing the bid when it would have taken officers away from their work on the MTRP, which is bringing £425,000 investment to the town.

“There were reams of things to do and we were just weeks away from the deadline. It was a difficult decision to make.”

At the town council meeting in February, Councillor Mark Whittle told members he believed a bid would have been excellent for the town, adding “it could really help turn the town around”.

So far the MTRP has seen equipment at the Festival Drayton Centre upgraded to the tune of £60,000.

A further £80,000 is being spent on improving the area around the library, £135,000 has been put in rescue fund for empty shops and £50,000 is being spent on business incubator units.

Talks are ongoing to decide how to spend the remaining MTRP funds.