Ashfield council chiefs have been slammed for being ‘short-sighted’ after axing their heritage and tourism development officer.
Opposition councillors, residents and members of heritage and local history groups across Ashfield have hit out at the decision, expressing concerns that without this key role, visitor numbers into the district will drop and important heritage will be lost.
The decision was made by the Labour-run council as part of a community empowerment review and the role, currently held by Denis Hill, will be replaced by a team of community action officers who will work with the council’s area committees but have no specialist heritage or tourism knowledge.
Coun Jason Zadrozny, Liberal Democrat councillor for Sutton North, said that the move was ‘so short-sighted it’s unreal’ and blamed the ruling party’s lack of understanding of the importance of the heritage of the area as the reason behind the decision.
“Not only me, but members of the public see the value that this brings to the district, not just in terms of pride and ambition, but in terms of economic benefits,” he said.
Coun Zadrozny said that heritage work is ‘not just a nicety’ but creates activities and sights for people to visit in the area, meaning this role could be a ‘real economic driver for change’.
He cited Ashfield’s links to author DH Lawrence as one area for potentially attracting thousands of tourists, with the setting for Lady Chatterley’s Lover said to have been inspired by Teversal Manor and parts of Sons and Lovers set in Ashfield.
“In terms of tourism, the amount of money that can be realised from [tourism] if you understand how to use it, could be massive,” he added.
“If it’s done right, it could really change the way the district looks, feels and is prosperous.”
In an email sent to Coun Zadrozny and Coun Gail Turner and seen by Chad, Nottinghamshire County Council’s senior practitioners for archaeology and historic buildings wrote that Ashfield’s heritage and tourism officer ‘has played a major and valuable part in bringing many hundreds of thousands of pounds of Heritage Lottery and English Heritage funding into the district.’
They stated that tourism is already worth £1.44bn to the Nottinghamshire economy per year, much of which is based around people visiting the county’s heritage assets.
An increase of five per cent in heritage tourism is being looked at by 2020, meaning tourism would be worth more than £2bn to Nottinghamshire.
The email, which was presented at a council overview and scrutiny committee meeting, states: “The loss of Ashfield’s heritage and tourism development officer at a time of the growing realisation of the importance and potential of heritage tourism for the county, seems a false and potentially very damaging economy to the future prospects of the district.”
A source within Ashfield District Council told Chad that there had been a lot of support for the heritage and tourism officer in the face of his role being cut.
The source said that Denis had taken Ashfield from an ‘unknown quantity’ in the heritage and tourism world and helped to ‘put it on the map’.
A spokesman for Ashfield District Council has defended its decision.
He said: “A recent review of the council’s community empowerment services, which includes tourism and heritage, proposed a restructure which will deliver area focused improvements to improve local knowledge and help build strong sustainable relationships to support future inward investment.
“Specialisms such as heritage and tourism will in the future be shared across the team to enhance the skills and expertise of the team in general.
“Therefore, tourism and heritage support will continue to be provided where it is identified that these are local area priorities.”