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Market Towns challenged for bright ideas

Small towns are being challenged to come up with regeneration ideas to win a share of 700,000. Nineteen of Oxfordshire's towns have the chance to see their development ideas funded by the South East England Development Agency grant. Previous successful bids have included regenerating a railway station and setting up a credit union. Grants of up to 120,000 are available, which will fund half of a project with the town funding the other half. Oxfordshire County Councillor Anne Purse said: "We are working hard to make sure eligible towns take full advantage of available funding. "Suggestions must demonstrably be able to help regenerate and develop a market town for the better." The nineteen eligible towns are: Benson Berinsfield Botley Burford Carterton Charlbury Chipping Norton Eynsham Faringdon Goring Henley Kidlington Thame Wallingford Wantage Watlington Wheatley Woodstock.

chippingnorton.net says: So come on all you people with bright ideas. Lets get the discussion  started and get our hands on some government dosh. With an eye on the jobs situation after Parker Knoll we really need some short-term action on the employment front  - although our wonderful District Council said at a recent meeting that they didn't think this was a problem. "They can always get jobs in Witney". Three ideas are on the go so far.
IDEA ONE Eve Coles is the author and backer of a plan to try and get a computer and white goods re-cycling facility established in the town. Lots of jobs and a boom business. Next year all district councils  will have to provide access to such facilities and it seems sensible to have your own rather than buy the service in expensively from other authorities. Eve is busy putting a case together. This week she has been up to Doncaster to see two re-cycling plants in operation. The District have told us they are not interested. The County are strongly urging us to pursue the idea. Is this what they call joined-up thinking
IDEA TWO: This is strongly backed by a Guild of Commerce working group who believe we should examine again the idea of a renovation facility for PK furniture, and explore concepts tapping into and linking the skills of ex-Parker Knoll employees with some of the successful local businesses selling premium-priced, custom-built furniture and hand-made fabrics. Using the 5 acres of employment land at PK as an attractively landscaped combination of craft units with several communal "showrooms" could provide an interesting attraction at the gateway to the town. Now the site is sold, we need to meet and try and influence the developer. They could be interested in a plan which has strong local support, exploits labour availability and existing skill sets and comes with some funding to conduct initial feasibility studies and provide possible seed capital
IDEA THREE  The District Council seems to be backing something called an ENTERPRISE CENTRE - which is also apparently endorsed by a Town Council working party consisting of some real experts on business development - Rob Evans, Gina Burrows, Jo Graves and Caroline Wills-Wright. Nobody else knows too much about Enterprise Centres but according to a WODC paper ...."such centres offer a range of types of workspace. Serviced - access to shared meeting rooms and rest areas. Layout and atmosphere encourages businesses to learn from and do business with each other collaborating on key strategic projects. On-site business support services such as business advice, mentoring and training, and act as focal points for business support in the town and surrounding areas". All sounds very new Labour and a bit like a scheme dreamt up by someone who has never had to achieve a sales target. But still it takes all sorts and perhaps this is just the sort of project that  a quango like the South East England Development Agency is looking for.

December 6th. Town Hall 7pm

Town is "promised" half a million pounds funding in two years. Who is kidding who

For the last two years we have been grubbing around
trying to find 10,000 for the swimming pool.

Powerpoint presentations were the order of the day at the Town Hall on Monday evening. An assortment of councillors, Co-op directors and council officers produced some whizzy slides but essentially told the town that if they formed a Partnership they would have access to half a million pounds worth of funding over the next two years. That is complete pie in the sky. Absolutely no evidence was presented for this amazing assertion. Incredibly - the majority of towns people present seemed to be prepared to swallow this story.  We will need to remind the likes of Barry Norton, Mary Neale, Rob Evans, Jo Graves et al just what they have promised and try and make sure they deliver. Another talk shop has been born. While the Partnership argue about a scattergun shopping list of daft projects  - like designing a business website and a touring  programme for the Theatre - we risk screwing up the main and overriding challenge facing this town - which is about getting more jobs  NOW!! The District Council created this  problem by granting Planning permission to Parker Knoll and losing a valuable employment site....it is up to the District to come up with an answer - not try and shuffle responsibility on to a Town Partnership. We should not have to compete for funds. Between them the District and the County have the available means to develop an industrial estate in Chippy - with starter units. They should have already started planning this. But apart from sorting out employment the Partnership will also resolve the Hospital and Castle View problems, as well as HGVs. If I heard it right they will also organise a new library and a Youth Centre. The Partnership will become a company - with shares and dividends and annual general meetings. It will raise money and leverage assets. This strange new quango won't leave much for an elected Town Council to do. Last night there was the irresistible feeling that the inmates were taking over the asylum. But don't worry too much - all this nonsense (together with Regional Government as a whole) will be the first cost saving when either Labour or Conservative win the next election. By next June the national government will have caught up with what local businesses already know (but which local government has not yet understood judging by their Council Tax proposals) which is that the Hard Times are back with a vengeance. Business is getting tougher by the day. Local business will soon start demanding that they get some proper service from the District in return for what are becoming crippling commercial taxes. It'll be time soon enough for teachers, academics and local government workers to rejoin the real world and find out what cut backs are all about! The BBC today - South East Regional Development and West Oxfordshire District Council tomorrow.



Chairman Graydon does not want members to be made to feel uncomfortable by pressure of observation!

Things really started going wrong the moment  in December when 36 town citizens foolishly voted to set up a Town Partnership. These Partnership talking shops are the latest New Labour way of making Tory local councils beg for money. The South East Economic Development Agency (SEEDA for short) - one of John Prescott's absurd new layers of bureaucracy and now in line for the big heave-ho after the North East voted against having a Regional Assembly - have decided to hand out money to South East Market Towns to help them revive themselves - by creating employment opportunities.  (Whoever would have considered the Market Towns of the SE as depressed areas) Oxfordshire will receive a grand total of 700,000 over seven years divided up between 19 market towns.   That's about 5,000 a year each on average. (Say that again  - 5,000! Less than the Red Lion raised at their 24 hr Darts Marathon). It will be a kind of beauty contest. Which towns and which projects attract the judges eye The catch is that qualifying projects must come from a Town "Healthcheck" and have the backing of a Town Partnership which has to be broadly representative of all the interests in the town. Any proposal has to be approved by the District and then vetted by a County Co-ordinator. Chippy doesn't have a Healthcheck. (Despite what people try and tell you the Appraisal is not the same thing so a lot of that will have to be done again). It doesn't have a Town Partnership so that will have to be set up. At a Public Meeting wild statements were made that a Partnership could access half a million of funding by next year - which is presumably why those 36 souls voted to set up a Partnership. Or at least because of a feeling that if there's money around why shouldn't we have some of it. Well the problem is that you have now fallen into Mr Prescott's trap. To get any of the money you will be required to jump through a whole series of politically correct hoops every morning before breakfast. You've all been had! Anyway the Town Council immediately voted some money to cover Administrative costs and volunteered the services of the Town Clerk. In secret a Steering Group was set up. Who is on it And why  Without so much a by your leave the Headmaster of Chipping Norton School was chosen as Chairman. The officers and councillors from the District and the County piled in as members of the Steering Group - including Chippy's favourite District Councillor Mary Neale (left). High on the Agenda is to get funding for a Town Manager at say 30,000 a year whose job will be (wait for it) to prepare projects to get our 5,000 a year from SEEDA. This is all complete Madness. Masterminding the whole nonsense is County Councillor Rob Evans who is looking for any publicity for his election battle against Conservative Hilary Biles coming up in May.

The first meeting of the Steering Group is scheduled for 24th January. Since the group has already spent public funds and its main purpose is to be the recipient of more in the future. I naturally assumed its deliberations would be in public. I wrote to Rob Evans confirming that I could attend the first meeting to report for chippingnorton.net. Those of you familiar with Rob's distinctive and often impenetrable style will enjoy his reply.....

As this is the first meeting of this new group we have not invited the press or opened it to observers as it needs to be up to the group to decide on its  procedures at its initial meeting. .. full minutes (will) be taken by David Williams (Town Clerk), who is serving the group, and they will obviously be available to all Steering Group members to share with their respective groups/members. Richard (Graydon) equally feels it is very important that members at this initial meeting should feel comfortable and uninhibited by the pressure of observation and/or press presence.

Come off it Mr Graydon, sir!  Its not the sensitive souls in your sixth form  we're talking about here.  These people are spending our money!

This article represents the purely personal views of Gerry Alcock
to whom any writs and suits may be addressed at



Your Editor scours the minutes to see what radical plans the new Town Partnership is hatching up. Remember this is all about getting some funds from the SEEDA Market Towns Initiative - devoted to regeneration and job employment.
Spot the decisions.

 It was agreed that the sensible course of action is to invite Catherine Chater (Carterton Fast Forward Project Manager) to a steering group meeting to discuss how CFF works in practice and lessons that Chipping Norton can learn from it=The setting of a constitution for the Town Partnership was discussed and it was agreed that a smaller group should look at this in more detail and report back to a future meeting with considered options. = the group agreed that it would need to be realistic about how many projects it had the capacity to take on better to do fewer well than raise expectation with too many not delivered properly. It is also important to leave capacity to consider new ideas that are certain to be proposed in the future.= It was agreed that the group would need to adopt criteria for assessing projects= Feasibility Study for Enterprise Centre. WODC are already working on the specification for a feasibility study.  The steering group offered their unanimous support for this project. It was agreed that WODC should continue to lead it. Action WODC to continue with their preliminary work towards a feasibility study for an enterprise centre. = Development of a Chipping Norton and Area Business Directory.  The key issue was accessibility to the existing data. OCC and WODC will consider ways to make the database more accessible on a local level. Action OCC and WODC to look at ways of making the data for a local database more accessible.=Skills Audit. The group agreed that while there is anecdotal evidence of skills gaps and recruitment problems for local firms, research is needed to identify the actual business needs and skills gaps. = A website for Chipping Norton.  the importance of an objective, promotional site for the town was agreed. It was agreed that this subject would be revisited at a later date as part of discussions on communications.=Marketing Strategy for Chipping Norton. It was agreed that a coordinated strategy for marketing Chipping Norton was essential. The group was informed that the Guild of Commerce was already looking at this. =Walking Bus. The group were informed that the Walking Bus Scheme is operated by OCC and that a needs assessment is required. The group agreed that their role was much more about influencing rather than actually setting up a walking bus. =Youth Issues.  Action Richard Graydon to convene sub group to work on a Youth Day and Young Peoples Forum. =Investigating development of recycling plant, furniture village and internet cafe. The group discussed all three potential projects and concluded that they were all commercial enterprises. While the partnership fully supports and encourages enterprise, it was agreed that the partnership is not in a position to take forward proposals on such enterprises itself.=Community Play. The partnership supported the idea of a community play in 2006 with both the School and the Theatre likely to be key partners.=Extension of Theatre Premises. The steering group supported and endorsed the principle of extending the Theatre premises.=Public information on town / area health services. This issue was identified in the Town Appraisal but it was agreed that it was sensible to defer any action until the current uncertainly around the new sites for the different elements that make up the services was resolved.=CCTV. The group agreed that this was a project to consider in the longer term. The group was informed that other towns were further along with this type of project but had encountered some sensitive operational issues. It was agreed that it would be sensible to wait until these had been resolved.=Plan for the future development of the town centre. The group was informed that the 3 tiers of councils (OCC, WODC and CNTC) were already considering this together and agreed that in order to avoid duplication of efforts that group was the correct forum for these discussions to continue. =It was agreed that a communications strategy needed to be considered in more detail than time allowed at the meeting.=The group will consider a periodic report / newsletter in due course.



There were two great turns at the Town Council meeting on Monday. Hopefully someone will hurry to sign them for Christmas at the Theatre. First the Partnership came to report on progress. In nine months there have been eight meetings.  No grants yet - unless you count some money for a feasibility study. But hey - there  is a constitution. There is also a Prospectus. But what has happened to the torrent of riches due to come our way from the SEEDA Market Towns Initiative Fund (At the Inaugural Meeting nearly a year ago Neil Homer of the Co-Op said we would have half a million pounds in the bank within two years See Meeting Report) We have been privileged to have the involvement of West Oxfordshire's economic whizz kid Mary Neale as the District Council's representative on the Partnership. With expertise like this on board we surely  should have been rolling in money by now. Not only no grants but now the Partnership wants some money from the town's taxpayers to employ a Programme Manager. What would his job be His job would be to get grants.  How much does he cost then A snip at 5-10,000 a year from the town. SEEDA, the County and District would make up the rest. 50 grand all in  How much money would he raise then Don't ask questions like that. It just shows you don't understand the New Labour Agenda. A Programme Manager is a good thing. They had one in Carterton - mind you he was paid for by some government grant. Enough said. The partnership better realise that the town simply has no money for this kind of thing and get its thinking cap on.  In its unelected wisdom the Partnership had decided that it would welcome two representatives from the Town Council on to its fifteen strong Steering Committee. Compare that with Carterton where half the members are from the Town Council. The Partnership already has the Deputy Mayor on board. They only want one other. Two Town Council members were keen - Councillors Alcock and Evans. Evans because he had been the main inspiration for the Partnership since the beginning. Alcock because he thinks the Partnership needs a relaunch. The Mayor was about to take a vote between them when Councillor Grantham - playing his frequent role of Solomon these days - suggested to the partnership that it would be more sensible if they welcomed both. Oh no - says the Partnership Chairman - the Steering Committee has decided on just one. And who are this committee to decide - says Councillor Grantham scoring a direct bullseye - nobody has elected them. They elected themselves. It was left (I think) that the Partnership better have the two town councillors and lump it.

But the Partnership were just a warm-up act for the riotous second turn of the evening. A web designer who had come to tell us all that the Guild of Commerce was now a brand and if the Town Council listened to him Chipping Norton could be a brand too. However before revealing the fruits of what he described as thousands of poundsworth of original creative work Joe Tibbetts from Hook Norton deemed it necessary to launch into an amazing tirade against chippingnorton.net. What has this website ever done to harm Mr Tibbetts. Well nothing  but he has rather asked for it now. Please come back soon for episode two by which time your Editor will have finished sharpening his knives......