We must be proactive if we want to attract more visitors

wet. Christmas lights in Wetherby. 2911071a.
wet. Christmas lights in Wetherby. 2911071a.

Those of you who visited the Jubilee exhibition of photographs of Wetherby through the 60 years of the Queen’s reign will doubtless have been astounded, both at the things which have changed and those which are still recognisable.

When you reflect on the changes in life in general over the last 60 years, it is even more amazing. In 1952, it was black and white TV (if you could afford it), small, very slow, black cars (and not many of them), very few telephones, especially in rural areas, holidays in Scarborough or Skegness (if you were lucky), children walked or cycled to school and actually played outside for hours on end – you could go on indefinitely. No mobile phones, no internet, no Kindles, no budget airlines – hard to imagine for today’s young people.

Life was conducted at a much more leisurely pace as opposed to today’s often frenetic lifestyle. Of course, not all change is bad, even though some of the grumpier members of our community might disagree! I would hate to lose the internet, for example – it’s a wonderful source of information and much easier than wading through tomes of the Encylopaedia Britannica!

As far as Wetherby is concerned, the last few decades have certainly seen some improvements – our wonderful Christmas lights and floral displays to mention two of them. I think the worst change to affect the town in recent years occurred when the A1 was moved and the service station was built.

For many months, Wetherby was pretty much cut off, with the removal of our brown sign and the totally inadequate signage on the new A1 adding to the problems caused by the recession.

It was one of the reasons why three of us finally went to London, with the support of our MP, Alec Shelbrooke, to ask for help from the Transport Minister. That was many months ago and I am only too well aware how frustrated residents and local traders are with the delay in replacing the sign.

Believe me, as Mayor Alan Lamb pointed out in a Wetherby News article a couple of weeks ago, we are all just as frustrated.

Unfortunately, wheels in local government grind exceedingly slowly and with other agencies involved as well, it was bound to be a tortuous process.

On a positive note, however, you might not have noticed that the other problem which we raised with the Minister has been dealt with, i.e. the multiplicity of signs on all of the B roads around the town directing drivers to the service station rather than into the town centre have all been removed.

I’m afraid we must also acknowledge that the restoration of the brown sign, important though it is, won’t immediately resolve all of the issues affecting the town.

The current supermarket issue is a particularly thorny one because not everyone is opposed to another one coming to town. I know that our local traders are extremely concerned by what seems like a never-ending assault on the town by the major chains. First Sainsbury’s and now Asda wanting to build large new stores on the outskirts of the town, then Morrisonss application to add another 10,000 square feet of selling space to their existing store, displacing most of the units in the Horsefair.

It’s not surprising that our small independent businesses are worried about the effect this could have on their turnover. In the current economic climate, everyone, quite rightly, is looking for a bargain and unfortunately, many people seem to assume that local shops will be more expensive than the supermarkets and large multiples. It isn’t always the case and anyway, by the time you have paid an exorbitant amount for petrol and perhaps parking to go elsewhere, a small additional amount in a local shop is surely more cost-effective – and the service is usually far better. Parking may be difficult and even sometimes impossible in Wetherby, but at least when you do get a space, it’s free!

The town council has recently set up a group (of volunteers, naturally) called Welcome to Wetherby – the aim of this group is to promote the town and look at ways to encourage more visitors. Members are currently working with Action for Market Towns on an initial benchmarking project to take an objective look at our town. The data obtained will be sent to AMT, who will analyse it, identify our strengths and weaknesses and compare us to other similar market towns.

The group is also organising a Christmas Window Dressing competition for local businesses and more projects are planned for next year. Unfortunately, we can’t stop change, but we can be proactive in attempting to limit potential damage to the town or better still, in ensuring that the changes are to our advantage.