Council Economic Strategy Consultant Trims New Homes Plan Following Feedback

ash futures consultation april 2014The islands’ public has had a first chance to comment on an economic strategy blueprint for Scilly.

The Council has hired consultants to look at economic data and previously commissioned papers, like the Blue Sail tourism report, so they can pick out what they still feel are important goals.

The aim is to merge all previous reports into one master to-do list. The Council will then choose to adopt, amend or reject parts of the final report in May.

Diana Mompoloki from the Council says locals shouldn’t expect the Town Hall to do everything.

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She says one of the things that has come out clearly from the work is “a feeling of complacency, that it’s someone else’s problem to deal with.”

Diana says it’s about defining what the Council can do and other bodies then need to chip in.

The Duchy, Tresco Estate and Steamship Company have also had input into prioritising the list, which was then fine-tuned by consultants Ash Futures, based on their thoughts and opinion.

They’ve produced an overall list of business, infrastructure and community strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths include our heritage, tranquillity, wildlife and natural environment, as well as our loyal visitors.

But poor and unaffordable housing choices, our high cost of living, travel and freight costs and seasonal employment are weaknesses.

The dominance of tourism within our economy is a negative, too, along with variable quality within the sector and a lack of signage.

Future threats to Scilly have been identified as reduced visitor numbers and less government money being granted, along with the risk of storms and climate change.

While the potential for EU grant funding and the proposed high speed internet are seen as opportunities, as well as the chance to increase self sufficiency and to improve transport.

Some stakeholders had insisted that achieving “affordable” transport should be adopted as a key goal. It hasn’t been, but Consultant Simon Hooton says that wish is broadly reflected.

He said it might be possible to “shave a few pounds off the price” but not halve it. He believes people should keep trying for a subsidy, but not build their plan around that.

There are more detailed lists of suggested improvement projects within each sector.

Tackling traffic in the town, facilitating renewable energy projects, waste disposal, food production and flood defences have all been highlighted.

Sunday and year-round business opening, upmarket accommodation and a study centre with student accommodation are also recommended to improve the visitor economy.

The consultants feel that businesses should offer card payment facilities and Diana Mompoloki says the action plan also asks for accommodation providers to adopt online booking.

She said if people don’t want something that makes their businesses run better, then “maybe they shouldn’t be in business any more.”

Around thirty locals attended the open day yesterday. Some left feedback on post-it notes and cited the need for protection from flooding as a high priority.

Housing was another hot topic. The consultants are suggesting that the Council and other large employers should develop their own key worker housing.

New homes, they say, are needed to encourage new business operators to relocate here and diversify our economy away from tourism, perhaps using the faster internet connection when it comes.

On Wednesday, Ash Consultants were recommending in stakeholder meetings that up to 120 new homes should be built in Scilly.

Simon Hooton says he still thinks that’s the right number, but for yesterday’s public session, the number was cut to between 60 and 90 homes.

Simon says that was due to feedback. He couldn’t expand on the formula used to arrive at that number, but said there would be an explanation in the finished report.

But some attendees, like Veronica Maple, were not in favour of more houses.

Veronica said visitors come here for green fields and open views, not “house after house.”

“Why spoil it?” she asked.

It’s not clear who will bring the strands of this to-do list together, if the Council backs it.

Simon says there could be grant funding available to create project management and delivery jobs on the islands.

A number of businesses feel the survey that has helped shape this report has not been well publicised.

Simon says 397 businesses in Scilly were informed of the survey in an Islands’ Partnership update email, and most of them have chosen not to respond.

67 businesses gave their views, and Simon feels that gave a good overview, although he says if enough people get in touch to complain, he’d consider extending the survey.

Simon says change has to happen in Scilly and he’s optimistic that the new leadership on the islands that will help drive it forward.

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