We are standing up for the town
I HAVE read with interest the many and varied criticisms of the Royston Town Council and its members through The Crow. While it is to be expected that no public body should be able to please all of the people all of the time, the complaints appear to hav
I HAVE read with interest the many and varied criticisms of the Royston Town Council and its members through The Crow.
While it is to be expected that no public body should be able to please all of the people all of the time, the complaints appear to have reached a crescendo over recent weeks.
While this tells me that the people of Royston are passionate about their town and rightly worried about the future, I feel that their anger is often misdirected at their councillors.
As a group, the councillors are often accused of bending over backwards for Tesco when it comes to planning applications and that this is responsible for the current situation in the town centre. In my short time on the council, a number of planning applications from Tesco have, in fact, been turned down in no uncertain terms. Furthermore, to blame Tesco for the ills of the town is, I believe, short-sighted. The fact is that Tesco is here because people want to shop there. We now live in an age where people want huge levels of variety when they shop, coupled with low prices and ample parking. No traditional town centre shop can provide all of those things and so will naturally suffer.
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This is no more the council's fault than changing fashions, but is rather a cultural shift brought on by increases in wealth, personal mobility and changing attitudes to consumerism.
It is now felt by many that to not have a large supermarket on your doorstep is a detraction from a modern town.
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If we are being honest, the majority of people who use Tesco would drive to other towns (with large supermarkets) to shop if Tesco had not built its store.
I have no doubt that the town council would then be criticised for not allowing Tesco to build if that were the case, but I also wonder what we would find to blame for the state of the town then.
While some critics are bemoaning the presence of one large retailer in the town, there have been calls from others that the town councillors have been negligent in not installing another in the town centre.
Although I agree wholeheartedly that a store such as M&S Simply Food is desperately needed and would welcome it with open arms (and wallet), I fail to see how the town council could do anything to make this happen.
Aha! The critics say, the town council could offer an incentive to M&S. Sadly this is not possible without raising the council tax, not something that people are willing to accept. Ok, they might say, how about offering reduced rent? Again, this is not possible as the town council does not own any of the land in the town centre. Perhaps, the critics could argue, reduced rates could be offered as an enticement to come. As the town council has no hand in the setting of rates, this once more is out of it hands.
What about lowering parking fees? As readers will be aware, the town council has tried to influence the setting of these fees, but is not responsible for the final decision.
It may not be convenient for the critics of the Royston councils, but M&S and other stores like it are commercial activities and only site stores in areas that meet strict demographic requirements. While it is true that Royston's population is growing rapidly, a large percentage does not work in close proximity to the town centre, thus lessening the attractiveness of such a position to retailers.
The shops will only come if there are more jobs in the area to bring people who spend money. Unfortunately when two of the largest employers (JM and Tesco) wish to expand, there is a huge outcry. It is illogical and contradictory to denounce the council for not doing anything to revitalise the town, but then criticise them further if they allow an established employer to expand, making the town a more attractive place where retailers can operate.
We are left facing the harsh reality that due to the three-tier system of local government, the town council can do nothing to bring new retailers or employers to the area other than express its views if projects are brought to their attention. While our Royston district councillors might also approve of any particular scheme, they are in a situation whereby they can be out-voted by other districts in the region.
It is my personal belief that the town council does not have enough powers when it comes to shaping its local community. This was part of the reason why I was so determined to push for Quality Council status as it might give us a chance to have more control over the future of Royston.
To criticise the town council and its members for not delivering something which it is plainly unable to shows a lack of original thought and is insulting to those members who work hard for community.
As a new young councillor, I am keen to ensure our town prospers. In fact, I would argue that I and my fellow councillors care more than most about the future of our town as we have actively sought to give up our time and become part of the process for change rather than sit on the sidelines and write to the local press offering little in the way of constructive advice.
While we may not all like the way our town has changed, we must accept that it will continue to develop as living and shopping habits evolve.
We are only going to make positive improvements to the town if we all work together to move forward and not dwell on the actions of the past.
While none of us can change what has already happened, we can work together to ensure that the future of Royston meets the expectation of as many elements of the population as possible.
Neither I nor my fellow councillors pretend to know all of the answers as to how the town should develop and nor should we, as our role is to voice the concerns and desires of our electorates, not to dictate or impose our will as if we know best.
To this end, I would like to invite anybody in the town to contact me via my personal e-mail address email@example.com to discuss any concerns or ides of how we should be improving our town and help give us the future Royston we desire.
Councillor PAUL GRIMES
Royston Town Council