THATCHAM councillors are to step in to monitor Thatcham’s economic performance amid concerns that the town has been overshadowed by Newbury’s success.
West Berkshire Council was accused of showing a lack of interest in Thatcham’s future after it was revealed that the council had stopped monitoring footfall in the town.
Thatcham town councillors invited district council representatives to a meeting in order to explain its reasoning, but they declined to turn up, saying that their attendance would not be necessary or appropriate.
They did, however, provide details of the company it commissioned to conduct the reports, in case the town council or the chamber of commerce wished to conduct their own surveys.
Discussing the options at Monday’s meeting, councillors heard that they could purchase a copy of the most recent survey for £150; repeat the study at £600 plus VAT; or commission a new bespoke survey for £770 plus VAT.
Jan Cover (Con, Thatcham Central) asked: “Can some of us not do this? Is it a hard thing to stand at different places and just count?”
“It’s not difficult. You just sit there with a clicker and count people,” Mr Collis replied.
But deputy leader Richard Crumly (Con, Thatcham Central) asked what the gain to the town council or local businesses would be.
Mr Collis said: “What it shows over time is decreasing footfall year on year. We have nothing else that records the footfall at the moment, it’s that or nothing.”
“Do we have any information as to why the footfall seems to be declining?” Mr Crumly asked.
Steve Ardagh-Walter (Con, Thatcham West) said: “I have got a theory, it’s totally untested and unscientific, but as Newbury footfall has increased because of investment in Parkway, people who wouldn’t normally visit have now gone to Newbury, which is nearer than Reading or Basingstoke.
“We are suffering from Newbury’s success. I suspect that’s a factor.”
Mr Collis added: “We have done things as a council to generate activity in the Broadway and increase footfall, it then falls on the businesses to take advantage of those events.
“It’s not something this council on its own can solve.”
Mr Collis suggested that the town council works with West Berkshire Council and businesses to see what could be done.
He added that the town council could ask for the latest footfall survey results and explore the costs of councillors conducting the survey themselves.
“With the willingness and volunteering of other members we can see if it’s something we can duplicate ourselves,” he said.
The footfall fallout follows Thatcham councillor Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) saying that smaller towns in the district were being left behind following continued investment in Newbury.