Ely: Highlighted In Portas Review

13 December 2011, 15:57 | Updated: 13 December 2011, 16:24

Ely has been singled out as an area with 'poor public consultation' in a national review of High Streets.

The review was commissioned by the government and has been carried out by shopping guru Mary Portas.

Prime Minister David Cameron started the review to try and find out why so many shops have closed down during the last few years.

The Portas review is recommending things like free parking in town centres where possible, gyms and creches in town centres and also more markets.

However, Ely features as a case study on how not to do things.

East Cambridgeshire District Council is proposing to introduce parking charges in Ely - at the moment it's free to park there.

A public consultation into the parking charges is now taking place, despite more than 12,000 people signing a petition against them.

Also, during the last few years, a number of out of town shopping developments have been built around Ely, and there are proposals for more in future.

The following is an excerpt from the Portas Review case study of Ely:

  • The development of a new retail park out of town has not been communicated transparently to local people and is only in the public domain due to being leaked by the developer. 
  • The Council have shown no appetite for listening to traders. The Ely Traders Association’s initial attempt to hold a meeting at the Council building was thwarted by a response that they would need to insure for £5 million public liability cover in order to hold the meeting. When a meeting was held, only seven members of the ruling Conservative group attended, not including the leader of the Council. One hundred traders and local people attended the meeting. 
  • There is no indication that the Council are listening to the weight of public opinion. A petition of 12,300 people (out of an Ely population of 18,000) objecting to the introduction of parking charges has been collected.

 Click here to read the Portas Review in full.

Andrew Olley, spokesman for Ely Traders' Association said: "The city's traders are pleased that their campaign has received such a ringing endorsement at the highest level.

Local businesses insist that it is important the councillors begin to take the situation on the high street seriously, or their actions could lead the district into further disrepute.

This is a damning inditement for East Cambs District Council.

It is now under a national spotlight. 

We hope that councillors carefully consider the evidence in the Portas Review and look again at the information presented to them by their own local business community.

It is sad that we have to see East Cambridgeshire named in this way."

East Cambridgeshire District Council has written a letter to the government in response, which you can read below:

Dear Sirs

I was initially excited to hear that Mary Portas had produced a report which highlighted the importance of placing markets and the community at the heart of our city centres.

For in Ely in Cambridgeshire that is exactly what we have done. We have a thriving award winning markets which bring thousands of residents and visitors into the centre of the city selling the best locally produced and crafted goods for many miles.

Two years ago, we worked with the local community and businesses to put together a Masterplan for Ely to ensure the city could grow successfully in the future. As part of this we recognised the centre of the town was essential not just in terms of shops but as part of everyone’s lives.

So we are currently looking at how the city centre can regenerate, develop an evening economy and be a place which is easy to come and visit.

There was no mention of any of this in today’s report, just a damning and misleading case study of recent events in Ely. I was very surprised to learn that Mary Portas and her team had not been in touch with us to confirm the information which was included in her report. Let me answer these now:

  • We have not introduced car parking charges in Ely. We are in the middle of a 12 week consultation which is seeking the views of the public and we are waiting to receive the petition with 12,000 names.
  • There is not a free bus service being introduced. In fact a new paid bus service is set to launch in the New Year taking residents from their homes to stops in the city centre and then the supermarket which is on the edge of the shopping centre
  • A proposed out of town retail park is being driven by a specific developer who recently publicly announced their plans. Our role is to judge a planning application when and if it is received. The impact of the proposal on the viability of the city centre would clearly be a key issue to be investigated then.

I find it frankly amazing that a significant independent report such as this has not further researched information which has been presented to them as fact. Should we as a council act in such a manner we would be quite rightly lambasted and reprimanded by Government.

The real danger of being ‘named and shamed’ in such a way is the damage it can do to a city which is already working hard to ensure it has a centre which is vibrant, thriving and cherished.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Peter Moakes - Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council.