More Doom & Gloom For Rayleigh High St

Fashion retailer, ‘New Look’ will be shutting up shop on the 13th March 2019. This is another unwelcome blow to Rayleigh’s High St as it appears even the big brands aren’t weathering the retail decline on the High St.

Losing a national brand could hit other smaller retailers if footfall declines, let’s hope that other businesses are resilient to what I hope is just a blip.

Let’s Talk Shop

I recently wrote about ‘How Can We Help The High Street‘ in which I had asked Rayleigh Town Council to invite Rochford District Council’s economic development team along to our Full Council meeting, so they could give us a view of their strategy ideas for Rayleigh’s High Street.

The meeting was attended by three representatives from Rochford District Council, Angela Hutchings (Strategic Director), Daniel Kudla (Economic Regeneration Officer) and the Conservative Portfolio Holder George Ioannou.

I had attempted to attend this meeting with positivity and a degree of optimism which was soon to be crushed by what followed.

The presentation began with the strategic director reeling off a narrative of the copied slides from some seminar that she had previously attended, all of which showed national statistics, all very well I thought, where’s the local statistics? Unfortunately my disappointment was only to continue as I listened to how Bill Grimsey says this, Bill Grimsey say that….. (if you don’t know who Bill Grimsey is, as I suspect many members didn’t, then take a look here) Death by powerpoint isn’t something that I relish and I have to admit my enthusiasm for the meeting by this point had dwindled significantly.

There was no mention of vacancy rates in Rayleigh’s High St or the traffic problems that regularly blight the roads, stopping people visiting the High St. Car parking was mentioned by one member as a problem due to the nature of pay and display it ‘time limits’ peoples shopping experience unlike retail parks and shopping centres like Lakeside, but we were basically told, we don’t want people milling around without buying – this goes against every trader I’ve ever spoken to. Retailers want people browsing, they want a crowd, more people = more interest = more sales

We were told about some of the work going on in Rochford, due to the need as it has lost it’s heart and soul, and it became frustrating, as despite the clear invitation that the Rochford District Council officers had received, there was very little mentioned about the future of Rayleigh’s High St.

The Economic Regeneration Officer spoke very little, which was disappointing and I had to wonder why the Conservative portfolio holder for enterprise had come along as he appeared ‘closed for business’ with nothing to say at all on the matter!

The meeting was concluded with an expression of forming another ‘talking shop’ with ‘key stakeholders’.

My optimism for Rayleigh’s High Street remains but only because I know there are small business owners who’s livelihoods depend on it and they will continue to keep up the fight.

If you want to listen to the meeting the audio recording is available here – 25th February 2019

Concerns Grow Over Possible Travellers Site On Eastwood Rd

Residents have received a seemingly anonymous letter through their letterboxes ‘alerting’ them to the possible travellers site on Eastwood Rd.

Travelers sites can be a very emotive subject, however, putting the fact the Council are legally required to provide travellers pitches, I think in this case questions really should be asked as to why despite a site allocation in 2014 (P82, GT1), Michelins Farm, why has it never been delivered? Now that central government policy has changed it could be that this site (GT1) will never be delivered.

I can’t fathom a reason, as to why the site wasn’t delivered – money, nope there’s plenty of that in the Councils coffers (£9m in reserves), compulsory purchase the land and the job is done, after all it’s been unoccupied for sometime.

Elsewhere in the District, hundreds of thousands of pounds has been wiped off the value of residents homes, where the Council has allowed, by means of its inaction, illegal sites to ‘pop up’ and then further down the line been granted permission by the Government planning inspector due to a failure of the Council to provide the sites needed.

It all seems to be very clear to me – this anguish by residents has been caused by Conservative Rochford District Councils long term failure to act.

This could be a very uncomfortable situation for Cllr Ward, who lives in the ward and is the Portfolio Holder for Planning who is ultimately responsible for the situation.

I wouldn’t want that angry mob knocking on my door!

The meeting will be held on 31st January 2019 to discuss the Gypsy and Travellers Issues Paper

Calling All Future Councillors

This week I’ve received a letter from NALC (National Association of Local Councils). One item in the letter writes about ‘Strengthening and promoting local democracy’

You might remember I briefly wrote last year about why I’m not average and the NALC goes on to write in it’s letter this year about one of it’s priorities

One of my personal priorities is to see more people from all backgrounds getting involved in the work of local councils and is why I set up our Diversity Commission. The findings of its first ever councillor census survey make for challenging reading:
• the average age of a local councillor is 61
• 25% have served for more than 10 years
• 60% are men
• just 11% are aged under 45
This is why this year’s local elections in many parts of the country provide a timely, in fact crucial, opportunity to address this.
One statistic I was particularly struck by in our survey was 80% of local councillors would recommend becoming a councillor.

Our own Lib Dem Councillor, Cllr Craig Cannell, is probably the youngest Councillor on the Council, but he brings with him a refreshing change. In his career, he works to help develop the future vision of a Global manufacturer and he brings his enthusiasm and alternative view to the table as a Councillor.

I believe we need to see some diversity on the Council and would love to see more people putting themselves forward. Despite what some existing Councillors might say – it doesn’t have to overwhelm your life and we need desperately need a more balanced representation of our community.

The Future Of Private Security In Rayleigh

Monday night I attended Rayleigh Town Council, Full Council meeting. It was slightly more interesting than usual as some new ideas were put forward and one noteworthy item was that of the private security that the Council recently trialled before Christmas.

The reception of ‘part-time, private security’ has been met with mixed reaction from the public and traders alike (contrary to what some Councillors want to believe). Whilst mainly older residents have commented how it makes them feel safe, some traders have criticised the decision as it makes the town appear to be ‘rough’ and ‘unattractive’ – this was always going to be a conudrum for the Council.

It would be fair to say that the security company has spent time dealing with Anti Social Behaviour (mainly by juveniles) and trying to tackle begging and homelessness if only to gain some intelligence on these matters that can be passed to the appropriate authorities.

Being asked for one’s view on the effectiveness and whether there should be a continuance of such a service (which obviously comes at a cost to Rayleigh residents) is a difficult view to take. I addressed the Council with a view that the private security could simply be trying to tackle a problem which could continue and even escalate if we do not address the ‘root cause’ – ASB by juveniles isn’t anything new and was around when I was a kid. However, I do appreciate that we can’t afford to be soft on the issue (give ’em an inch and they take a mile) and as such my colleague, Cllr Stanley suggested patrols were stepped up as the problem doesn’t simply only occur on a Saturday. We’d also like to see patrols extended to King George V playing field especially as we have been made aware that a large knife was recently found in the grounds!

There was some further debate on the issues surrounding the matter and unfortunately, the can was kicked down the road until some more details could be obtained from security companies in terms of how the Council could procure their services and what level of engagement they can offer. Until then, the patrols are suspended.

How Can We Help The High Street

*Update - I've received a 'request' to modify this post from Rochford District Council Strategic Director, I will leave you the reader to draw your own conclusions why I have received this request, but I am pretty certain it's not for the reasons alluded to!

From: "Angela Hutchings" <[email protected]>
Sent: 31 December 2018 14:38
To: "Rayleigh Town" <[email protected]>
Cc: "Daniel Kudla" <[email protected]>, "Shaun Scrutton" <[email protected]>
Subject: Corrections to website post required

Dear Kerry I have today noticed the post (screen shot below) on Cllr Newport’s website which states that colleagues from RDC will be attending a meeting at Rayleigh Town Council to “present their strategy for helping our struggling retailers and their vision of our High Street”. This is not the case. The invitation came from you to RDC (myself and my Econ Dev colleague Dan Kudla will be attending) to discuss concerns which the TC has about its High Street and for us to share some ideas. The text of your email is copied below in red for ease of reference.

Hi Rayleigh Town Council is concerned about businesses in the town centre as a number are up for sale and shops often become cafes and restaurants or remain empty for a while.  It would be good if we work together to try to come up with any ideas or a strategy to preserve our High Street.  We know that this is a nationwide issue and we are more fortunate that some other town centres but we need to help businesses as much as we can as Councils. Would a representative from the Economic Development Team like to come to one of our Full Council meetings to discuss this?  

I shall be grateful if you will please ask Cllr Newport to amend his website as I am concerned that it is setting expectations for members of the public which will not be met on the night. Many thanks, Angela

In Rayleigh, we can be reasonably proud of our High St, but we can not be 'asleep at wheel'. We're in uncertain times for our High St and I don't think we can afford to be complacent of its ongoing success. 

I've recently spoken to many local small business owners in Rayleigh, who are equally as worried about the future of the High Street, after all, this is their livelihoods. With many businesses 'quietly' up for sale and empty retail units we have to do something before it's too late. Drawing on these informal discussions I've put forward to Rayleigh Town Council, that an invite should be extended to Rochford District Councils economic development team (which they've accepted) to present to the Town Council their strategy* ideas for helping our struggling retailers and their vision of our High Street. 

This doesn't just fall to one council or another, this needs community involvement. The retailers want you to shop in our town, but they too need to provide the services and products you want - so it's an all round effort that's required. 

I'm looking for members of the local community to get in touch with me and put forward their ideas and questions so I can ask Rochford District Council on their behalf and hopefully together we can boost our local trade. 

The meeting will be held on 25th February at 7.30pm at the Town Council offices.

Like him or loathe him Mike Ashley talks about the future of the High Street

What Have I Been Doing Lately?

Although my blog posts have been slightly infrequent, I’ve been still been busy dealing with local politics. As a Rayleigh Town Councillor for the Victoria Ward, I still maintain an interest in both Town and District matters. You might have seen our Liberal Democrat Blog ‘onlinefocus‘ which I regularly contribute to.

At the Town Council, I’m a member of the Policy & Finance Committee, which I actively participate in. Helping to reduce the Councils expenditure on some of its core costs such as telephony, postage and IT systems by making recommendations to move to use local suppliers who were able to offer competitive rates over national companies. Costs have been significantly reduced.

I’m currently on a working party to look at the Business Continuity Planning of the Town Council, after it was recognised that the District Council had handled their recent and protracted IT disasters very poorly.

Although last year I retired from the planning committee, I still follow the work of the planning committee closely and have made recommendations, which have been adopted by the Council to reduce the work of the planning committee and also to hold the District Council (who are responsible for planning) to account on matters such as travellers.

I have proactively been trying to publicise the work of the Town Council and made recommendations (which have now been implemented) to add additional notice boards around the wards.

If there are any local issues that you would like to see the Town Council tackle please feel free to get in touch with me



Question Time

Watching 'Question Time' this week, it was a surprise to see not just one, but two of my friends from school in the audience! Here they both are. The first one is one of my hand waving, best friends for over 30 years - whatever he does you can always feel the passion, a true Welshman!

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