Axminster town centre funding bid rejected

PUBLISHED: 15:01 22 July 2019 | UPDATED: 17:00 22 July 2019

Axminster's Trinity House department  store is to close in September. Picture Chris Carson

Axminster's Trinity House department store is to close in September. Picture Chris Carson

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Axminster town centre funding bid rejected

Cllr Ian Hall.Cllr Ian Hall.

Axminster has lost its bid for government money to help revitalise its declining town centre.

The former Conservative administration at East Devon District Council applied to Westminster in March for the town to receive a share of the £675 million from its Future High Streets Fund.

But the bid has been rejected at the second stage.

Now local councillor Ian Hall has challenged the area's two Conservative MPs to press for more credible support from Westminster after the town's latest 'economic setback'.

The Conservative district and county councillor says he feels the Tory MPs in Westminster hve abandoned the town.

He said it was clear that Axminster had been side-lined when the shortlist of successful bids for up to £150,000 was announced last week, with the nearest places to go forward being Taunton and Yeovil.

Cllr Hall said: "Axminster seems to be the forgotten town of East Devon when it comes to any kind of support from Central Government. There's been a catalogue of decisions going against us, which have left those of us who are working hard to revitalise the town during challenging economic times feeling like nobody in power cares about us."

Cllr Hall said he had contacted the town's MP Neil Parish challenging him to press colleagues in Government 'to recognise that Axminster is going to be in dire straits if it doesn't see some positive action'.

Cllr Hall also sent the same message to fellow Tory MP Sir Hugo Swire, who represents the adjoining constituency, because, he said, the decision had wider implications for the whole of East Devon.

Cllr Hall said: "Enough is enough. Axminster is fighting for its life at the moment. There are people in this town - and I am one of them - who are working incredibly hard to keep ourselves afloat against really tough odds. But all we are getting from this Government is one kick in the teeth after another.

"On the evidence so far, no one at Westminster seems to understand the desperate position we are in - let alone care about it. If you take away people's hope, why shouldn't they just give up?"

Cllr Hall said he had since spoken with Mr Parish who said more focus would be put on local issues once Brexit was concluded.

A spokesman for Sir Hugo said: "We, too, are disappointed that Axminster did not progress further in the Future High Streets Fund application rounds. However, initially, Sir Hugo called for Cranbrook in East Devon constituency to be chosen by EDDC. Only one town in a district council area can be taken forward."

In March, Cllr Hall described a Whitehall decision to backtrack on an earlier promise of a £10 million grant for the proposed Axminster Relief Road as a 'betrayal'. London's decision to change the grant to a loan, repayable by developers out of profits, would render the entire Axminster Masterplan unviable, he warned

The Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) grant, secured in principle in 2018, was a key element of the wider Axminster Masterplan agreed earlier this year by East Devon District Council (EDDC). It was set to deliver a mixture of new homes and infrastructure improvements, reduce congestion and bring other benefits that would have offered Axminster a much brighter, more resilient future.

Since then, Cllr Hall said the harsh realities of trading in the UK's High Streets has brought more gloom to Axminster, with Goulds announcing the closure of the town's Trinity House department store - expected in September - and the closure of McColl's newsagent in Victoria Place.

Commenting on the funding setback Elizabeth Pole, chairman of the Labour Party, Tiverton and Honiton Constituency said: "Axminster Tories are trying to pass the buck on their own, broken local election promises.

"Tories are taking Axminster voters for granted, by promising so-called 'relief road"', and the Future High Streets funding they haven't delivered.

"Axminster is bursting with promise, heritage and talent, and Labour would prioritise joined-up decision making, boost bus services, provide free bus travel for under-25s, deliver free wi-fi and overhaul the broken business rates system."

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