North Dorset Council will give Shaftesbury Town Council £70,000 towards their ‘Project Belle’ bid to buy the former Budgens store.
The agents for the site claim that there are six bidders. If Shaftesbury Town Council’s offer isn’t successful, North Dorset Council says that £50,000 of this money can be used to fund signs to boost our town’s tourism. Keri Jones from ThisIsAlfred spoke with the town’s Mayor, Piers Brown.
Piers, who is both a town councillor and a member of North Dorset District Council, is hoping that the Town Hall’s offer for the empty Bell Street supermarket is accepted. He said the proposal for the old Budgens store would ‘renovate it into a fantastic space that serves the community again and is no longer an eyesore’. The Town Council can’t currently reveal how much they have bid, until one of the offers is accepted. That’s because that financial information could help rival bidders.
If Project Belle proceeds, Shaftesbury Town Council will be able to decide how this money from NDDC is spent within the project. “We are going to have to raise a sizeable amount of cash to facilitate the renovation of the site, so that it can be used for whatever the Town Council and the community agree is the best use for it. The more grant money that we receive, the less strain there is on repaying capital loans,” said Piers.
He added, “The Town Council doesn’t have millions of pounds sitting in the bank ready to be spent. We will have to borrow the money against any future income from the site, so the less money we have to borrow and the more we can get from grant money, then the more likely the project is to be financially sustainable going into the future, and we won’t have to raise council tax.”
If the bid fails, the District Council will divert some of that money into funding signs that could boost Shaftesbury’s tourism trade. “Then, the District Council is going to look to give £50,000 to the Town Council on a joint project, to look at how we can deliver better tourist information signs in and around the town to try and promote tourism.” Piers said that tourism is an, “important part of the employment sector.”
But that’s £20,000 less than the amount on offer if Project Belle proceeded. Why? “The figures aren’t just randomly plucked out the air,” said Piers. “They are brought together from what the Town Council said it needs to deliver the tourism project.”
The Town Council’s Visitor Experience Advisory Committee would drive this signage scheme. Piers says that panel, “brings together members of the community who are involved in the tourism sector – everyone from B&B owners through to people that run High Street shops, cafés, the Abbey – people who have worked in the tourism and marketing sector for years. It’s a real stakeholder led process. They’re saying this is what we need from our Town Council. The Town Council is saying ‘that sounds fantastic’ and the District Council is giving some funding to help achieve that project,” said Piers.
And he says that if £50,000 was spent on signs, it should not mean that Shaftesbury would be overrun with signage. “It’s not a case of plastering them everywhere. The more that you get involved in the world of the highways, the less surprised you become at how expensive some of these things can be. Just a sign can be very expensive. It has to fill 110 different regulations to be on or near a highway.”
So what sort of signs will be funded if this scheme goes ahead? Will they be fingerpost style signs or the brown tourism signs? “I think a bit of both,” said Piers, “but there’s still quite a large amount of work that needs to be done before the final plans are put together.”
Piers accepts that some residents will argue that North Dorset should pay for some Shaftesbury schemes. They still cover the town. “All of the projects which the District Council has been giving money to over the last couple of months have been on our radar for a while,” said Piers. “We’ve been working with people, such as Shaftesbury Town Council, to monitor these projects and see where we can add value. We’re not about trying to step in and stamp our mark on something. It’s about saying, ‘there’s slight funding shortfalls’ or ‘how can we help them achieve by adding a little bit of extra funding?’”
But Piers said that there are no plans to ask North Dorset District Council for more money for those tourism signs if the Project Belle goes ahead and uses that money. “At the moment it’s one or the other. But there are lots of other funding streams that the Town Council can take advantage of to try and deliver the tourism signs as well,” he said.