Economic Plan Says Community Needs To Take More Responsibility For Services

island future economic plan 2014A vision of Scilly with more choice of housing, new businesses being attracted from the mainland and a move away from tourism was presented to around 70 islanders at a public meeting on Tuesday.

It’s the culmination of six months of work by economic consultants Ash Futures, and is designed to be a blueprint for growing the islands’ economy over the next ten years.

But the Council’s Chief Executive Theo Leisjer warned that it couldn’t all be delivered by the Local Authority and Economic Development Officer Diana Mompoloki said it was clear that locals would “have to put their hands into their own pockets” to help fund the changes.

In an opening address, Council Chairman Amanda Martin said she’d recently visited the Aran Islands in the Irish Republic.

“If anybody wants a graphic illustration of what happens to islands that don’t plan for the future, you only need to visit Aran,” she said, before going on to describe the ‘ruins’ in the main town centre.

Simon Hooton from Ash Futures highlighted problems with falling visitor numbers and a growing number of older residents compared to younger people. He said the islands were dependent on enormous hand-outs from the government and Europe, and dominated by the tourism industry, with “patchy quality.”

Simon feels that new opportunities, like an upgrade in the islands’ broadband technology, could be a chance to diversify away from tourism, both for existing businesses and new entrepreneurs from the mainland. He said there were plenty of businesspeople who want to come here for the lifestyle and bring their companies and staff with them.

That would require a big house-building programme on the islands, with up to 120 new homes created by 2024, and the release of land for businesses to expand. It would provide more choice for residents on the Council waiting list, new arrivals and younger islanders who want to return, he said.

Scilly also needs to increase its self-sufficiency in areas like energy and food supply, and Simon warned that businesses need to work more closely together.

Mr Leisjer told the audience that they can’t rely on “the official bodies,” like the Council and Duchy, to make this happen and the community needs to take ownership and responsibility.

Simon said there could be opportunities for local businesses to take over the running of some services, giving more control to the community. That could include childcare facilities, energy supply and food production.

The audience seemed broadly in favour of the plan, although some attendees did have questions about the way forward.

Mark Prebble, a member of the Renewable Energy Cooperative, said their community interest group was “ready to go” on plans for a solar electricity generation farm on St Martin’s but had been halted by lack of infrastructure from Western Power. He said that was frustrating.

Diana Mompoloki said she was in discussions with Western Power to improve the energy infrastructure but she couldn’t reveal anything because of confidentiality issues.

St Mary’s farmer Penny Rogers said she felt “quite insulted” because many people in the community were already getting involved in group activities like the community orchard, Carreg Dhu garden and numerous sports clubs.

And she said she resented the accusation that residents were in “a culture of dependency” on grants.

St Mary’s businessman Jon May felt the community had been “stifled and thwarted” by the Council for the last fifteen years. He said it had just “drained energy out of local people.” He wanted councillors had to stop being popularist and “step up” to support difficult decisions.

Theo replied that he was keen for change, which is why he accepted the job.

There’s no detailed roadmap on the way forward. The report suggests forming a ‘Future Actions Group’ with representatives from the Council, the Islands’ Partnership, Duchy, Wildlife Trust and and businesses. Simon has suggested a senior Council manager should support this.

A Community Trust could also be established as an umbrella to manage any social initiatives.

Summing up, Theo reiterated that the Council would not lead the changes and it was up to the community to take responsibility. But he did promise to bring together interested groups to start that process.

Today, the Council issued an apology after some people arrived an hour late for the meeting. Their website published an incorrect starting time of 7pm instead of 6pm.

 



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