WEST Berkshire’s smaller towns are in danger of being “left behind” with the district council’s economic focus firmly fixed on Newbury, according to one West Berkshire councillor.
And work must be done to make the likes of Thatcham, Hungerford and Theale a more attractive destination for businesses and shoppers to ensure the district can thrive as a whole.
The concerns were raised by Liberal Democrat councillor Lee Dillon (Thatcham North) following the council’s decision to stop monitoring footfall in Thatcham and Hungerford.
Last month, parish councils, as well as traders, in Hungerford and Thatcham, reacted angrily to West Berkshire’s decision, with some claiming the district council was showing a “lack of interest”.
Mr Dillon said: “While I accept that Newbury is the economic hub of West Berkshire, the other towns also contribute to the economic success of the district.
“In 2010 the council commissioned a report for Thatcham Town Centre. There were a number of suggested actions that came out of that report, but we have seen only a handful of those completed.
“If we are going to commission a report we need to have the finances in place to deliver its recommendations.
“We have seen improvements in Newbury since then, yet in other towns they seem to have been left behind.”
Mr Dillon also took the opportunity to voice his concerns at a recent meeting of West Berkshire Council’s Executive.
Referring to comments made by Alan Law (Con, Basildon) last year, Mr Dillon asked: “Newbury has been described by a former executive member as a ‘21st-century market town’.
“What plans do the council have to provide support to the smaller towns in the District such as Hungerford, Thatcham and Theale?”
In response portfolio holder for Community Resilience and Partnerships, Marcus Franks (Con, Speen), said: “We have got an economic strategy which covers the whole of the district to promote West Berkshire as a desirable location for business, leisure and life.”
Mr Franks pointed to partnerships with a “major international company” in Theale, as well as with the new IKEA store in Calcot, which has ensured employment opportunities for local people.
He added that business start-up workshops had started in Hungerford and Thatcham, while work was being done to help support businesses across the district in their business plans.
While Mr Dillon said he was pleased that the district council was working with business, he accused the local authority of failing to identify an overall goal.
“They were all individual projects without an overall target,” he said after the meeting.
“Given the pressures on funding faced by the council, one of our main focuses must be the retention of business rates.
“We should be coming out and saying ‘come to set up your business in West Berkshire’.
“We should be able to provide data, such as analysis of footfall data to help businesses.
“We need investment in the public realm to make those town centre’s an attractive place to shop.”