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Green Party plea for more to be done for Stowmarket

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A plea has been made by Mid Suffolk’s Green party for more to be done for Stowmarket, amid warnings it will not thrive without help.

During a discussion of the 2020 budget at Mid Suffolk District Council’s cabinet meeting on Monday, Green councillor Keith Welham urged the Conservative administration to do more for the district’s key town or risk its decline.

He said: “Stowmarket needs a boost. It’s empty in the afternoon and quite a lot of the evening.

Mid Suffolk District Council, Endeavour House.
Mid Suffolk District Council, Endeavour House.

“If we want to keep Stowmarket as a thriving market town it needs a boost.

“Clearly the upgrade of the Regal [theatre] will provide a boost but we need to get the people living in the villages around into Stowmarket.

“We need to get people coming in to visit a particular thing, whether it be a film, or go shopping, or the museum – we need to keep them there.

“One thing to keep them there for an hour or two is an electric vehicle charging point.”

Mr Welham said bus discounts or free parking after 3pm could help entice people to the town, as there was not enough to encourage people at the moment.

He said: “People in Stowupland don’t cross the A14 to go into Stowmarket anymore – it’s so much easier and more pleasant to go to Bury.

“We have got to do something to attract people into Stowmarket.

“We have got a real opportunity for people moving to Stowmarket to shop in Stowmarket, and I don’t see anything other than the Regal money.”

As part of the party’s alternative budget, it proposes public art displays to promote the local market towns and more electric vehicle charging points.

John Whitehead, Conservative cabinet member for finance at Mid Suffolk District Council, said: “I very much share the thoughts on Stowmarket.

“Some people say they are stopping going into our county town of Ipswich and perhaps Stowmarket is an alternative, but I can still see that Bury because of its critical size is a big draw.

“I think all of us who are residents in Mid Suffolk would like to see Stowmarket developed.”

The council has embarked on a multi-million pound Vision for Prosperity plan for the town since Spring 2018.

Among the projects currently underway is an overhaul of the former NatWest bank to tie up with the adjoining John Peel Centre’s activities, plans for a technology hub in the town, an extension to the Regal theatre, an ambition for free wifi in the town centre and enhancements to public areas with sculpture and art.

Green and Liberal Democrat groups have called for a new homes competition, solar power plant and better council provision in the district.

The two groups have put together a series of proposals for the Conservative administration to consider for the 2020/21 budget.

Among them are calls to investigate a wind and solar power plant in the district, improve access to council services with better facilities in Stowmarket, a youth council to engage youngsters and a tree planting programme.

According to the Greens, the proposals – which have been costed – could be funded through the £1.3million pot of money being put aside for commercial risk reserves.

Rachel Eburne, leader of the Greens, said: “It’s about future-proofing Mid Suffolk and improving social and environmental outcomes.

“The leader and finance portfolio holder were positive [during talks over the measures] but they seem to view most to be to do with the climate emergency and should be decided by the environment task force.

“But lots of these are social as well as environmental and should be decided by the cabinet.”

One of the key suggestions is a sustainable house design competition, where people can come up with a unique design for a Mid Suffolk home to win £20,000 prize money.

The winning design would then be turned into plans that would be free to use for developers building in the district, to give the area a unique identity.

Other measures include:

• A fund to install renewable heat and energy systems

• Wider installation of electric vehicle charging points

• Public art projects in market towns to attract visitors

• Free parking in Stowmarket after 3pm

• Create a start-up fund for new community orchards

• Utilise front counter space in Stowmarket for building control services

• Move to webinars for businesses and councillors

• Technical and planning advice for people retrofitting their home with sustainable measures

Green councillor Andrew Stringer said the proposals have come from both the Green and Lib Dem groups, meaning it has been put together by half of the members of the council.

During Monday’s cabinet meeting, Conservative leader Suzie Morley said: “Every single one of the things on the list have been passed on to officers for scoping.

“All will either be discussed by the climate change task group or relevant portfolio holder to decide, and we are looking at everything on that list.”

The measures could be put forward as a motion for the next full council meeting, with the Green group stressing that it would be open to discussions and amendments.