Martin Lee: Project should be start, not the end

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I am pleased that the new building for retail and office use on Queens Street opened this week.

It is an excellent structure designed by the Council’s own team of architects. It has brought much needed construction work for local businesses. It is a great example of how public sector expertise and public investment can bring real economic progress.

I am disconcerted however by the hype coming out of the Mayor’s office that this is the “crowning glory” for regeneration in the town. This project cannot be seen as an end but as a beginning. There is so much more to be done in the town centre and around the wider district to reverse a decade of decline and the Council has a vital role to play in this regeneration project. Money is very tight but with imagination much can be achieved.

The Mayor should stop wasting money printing streetscapes to disguise empty shops and instead invest the money in grants to support struggling or new local businesses to make use of vacant units; allow short term creative community uses such as “Swap Shops” to enable people to exchange goods and services; cut market stall rents to bring back stallholders and encourage new entrepreneurs; create an exciting and diverse timetable of themed markets throughout the year.

More ambitiously we need to populate the town centre and allow empty retail units to be converted into quality residential homes. This housing theme should be extended to the old bus station site. It is a serious failing that despite the Council knowing for eight years that, with the new bus station on its way, this would be an empty site. Nothing had been planned for its use. Mansfield cannot afford another decade of limited ambition and lack of imagination.

At last some good news has come out of the Coalition Government with the announcement that they will guarantee the concessionary fuel allowance to miners made redundant when UK Coal went into administration, retired miners and their widows.

This was the culmination of a campaign led by our local MPs, Sir Alan Meale and John Mann and Nottinghamshire NUM General Secretary, Alan Spencer supported by Labour

Councillors at Mansfield District Council.

The concessionary coal allowance was not a perk as some may believe but was taken into account when wages were negotiated within the industry in the past. Miners contributed to this scheme when working, as they did to their pensions. It is only just that free coal or an annual cash allowance continues to be provided to those who have given so much to the industry.

Martin Lee

Labour Leader MDC