Transition New Mills was very pleased to meet last week with two prominent members of High Peak Borough Council (HPBC): Godfrey Claff, who’s in charge of Regeneration policy, and Caitlin Bisknell, leader of the Council. We, along with other groups such as Sustainable Hayfield, Visit New Mills and Torr Vale Mill Preservation Trust, were invited by the local Labour Party to hear about HPBC’s strategy for local regeneration and offer our views and comments.
I thought it would be useful to share what could be the start of a very open, informative and constructive dialogue. There may well be initiatives that we can tap into to further our aims as a Transition initiative and it was good to network with other like-minded groups.
Godfrey began by presenting the HPBC’s Regeneration Growth Strategy which focuses on “poverty, people and sustainability”. There are five main strands to the strategy:
- Increasing local employment. Godfrey and Caitlin are visiting the 100 biggest businesses as well as a number of smaller businesses to understand their issues and see how HPBC might help. HPBC intends to improve its communication with business via an e-Newsletter.
- Maximising investment in High Peak. The main element of this is the establishment of a Growth Fund whereby the council will borrow money to stimulate growth. Investment is available for private sector projects that will provide an income stream to the council and new jobs, such as housing projects. I asked Godfrey whether this could include renewable energy projects; I don’t think this had occurred to him, but his reply was “come and talk to us”.
- Working more closely with partners on projects such as Glossop library. HPBC intends to look much more towards Manchester as our nearest thriving city and engine of growth, such as on transport to take traffic off the roads. Working together on health issues and with the Peak District Park Partnership to access EU funds was also mentioned.
- Maximising opportunities for residents such as encouraging the employment of local people through the planning mechanism, upgrading skills through training and a micro-finance loan scheme.
- Town centre development. Market towns – such as New Mills – are “hubs for change” so there will be dedicated workers assigned to these towns to help with regeneration with the aim of promoting distinctiveness. It was pointed out that these towns already receive a regeneration grant: for New Mills, HPBC allocates £4,000 which the town council is expected to match resulting in an annual fund available for regeneration of £8,000. It was further pointed out that for the last couple of years, none of this was spent…
Godfrey was keen to stress that there is no new money for regeneration; in fact, it’s being done in a time of a severe financial squeeze. Therefore, this strategy is all about a redirection of current staff and the use of existing or borrowed money. However, HPBC is keen to overcome blockages to projects, e.g. due to lack of land, money (where there is a possible income stream for the council) and/or planning issues.
The discussion afterwards covered a number of topics:
- The different stress on very small businesses (e.g. sole trader or just a couple of employees) vs. larger businesses (100+ employees, such as Swizzels Matlow). Our own Barry Bate (there representing Visit New Mills) suggested that a business incubator space may be fruitful.
- An EU programme for the support of small businesses and community enterprises known as ‘Leader’. This is for ‘innovative’ projects (though this has a very broad definition) and could be worth up to £1m or so.
- Would a Traders’ Association be useful for promoting dialogue between HPBC and local businesses, and offering shared services and advice? For Hayfield? For New Mills? Or for both?
- Totally Locally Glossop is launching this coming Monday (24 March) at Bradbury House in Glossop and everyone is welcome to go along and network and see how they’re doing things.