Tinkering Around the Town Centre Will Just Waste My Council Tax

When it comes to local councils, they do love to spend our money. I have to get this off my chest so I can move on.

This year, 15% of my income (assuming I continue to be part time employed) will go on Council Tax. So I want a say in how it's spent, and having been alerted by someone else to the shopping list that Houghton Regis Town Council have come up with for our town centre, I am appalled at what they want to spend MY money on.

For several years now, Conservative Central Bedfordshire Council have been robbing over £90,000 a year from Houghton Regis Town Council. It is money that the Government gives CBC to pass onto local councils in respect of council tax support. And CBC haven't been doing so. And now, somewhat miraculously, they have conjured up a £4m fund - the Market Town Regeneration Fund. I wonder where that came from?

The fund, of course, comes with strings attached, and our town has to compete with others for a slice of this money. CBC will give matched funding for schemes that improve town centres. Understandably keen to get their mitts on some of that funding, our town councillors, many of them newbies elected only last May, have swallowed the bait and come up with a raft of proposals they hope will make our town centre a more thriving place, IF their scheme is lucky enough to be chosen by Conservatives at CBC.

The documents were found on the HRTC website. The shopping list beggars belief, and although a survey was conducted, to my mind very little on the shopping list matches up with what the public were saying.

Shopping List: "Create a sense of 'gateway' at the entrances to the town"
Total: £8,000
My comment: "No. No. Waste of money".

Shopping List: "Create a sense of 'gateway' at entrances to Bedford Square"
Total: £15,000
My comment: "No. No. Waste of money".

Shopping List: "Improving the signage to the town centre".
Total: £6,000
My comment: "Waste of money. If people don't know where it is, then it's a bad job for them. Signs are a blight on the urban scene."

Shopping List: "Improve retailer branding and advertising"
Total: £6,000
My comment: "Waste of public money. If businesses want to spend on that, let them."

Shopping List: "Improvements to the Bedford Sq Community Centre".
Total: £17,000
My comment: "HRTC don't own this building, CBC do. The owners should pay for any improvements required. Accessibility for wheelchairs, widening the doors from the corridor, doing something about the stiff front door are things that all need to be attended to. There are four CBC councillors for Houghton Regis, shirking their responsibilities while claiming expenses of around £250 a week. Let them get on with making a nuisance at the Council that owns the Community Centre."

Shopping List: "To install public art into the centre of Bedford Square on the large blank wall".
Total: £60,400
My comment: "The HRTC don't own the the Square. The large blank wall on the side of Poundstretcher is somewhat austere. And yet 'No cycling' and 'No ball games' signs on the wall are already ignored. If something is put on that wall, please, let it not be a giant beechnut (or conker)!"

Shopping List: "To also install hanging baskets / planters throughout the centre of the town and along the highway fronting facades".
Total: £80,000
My comment: "It's a roadway and public footpath. For those that want to see flowers go to a garden centre or public gardens."

Shopping List: "Refurbish the tree bed near All Saints."
Total: £15,000
My comment "ok with that."

Shopping List: "Promote local active transport (cycling and walking)".
Total: £17,000
My comment: "CBC have already graffitied our roads and footpaths. The urban scene is already cluttered with signposts and fly-posts. No further wasteful promotions are required."

Shopping List: "The creation of a Bedford Sq performance space supported by an events programme".
Total: £132,000
My comment: "This needs careful consideration of residents living nearby. There are already several uses of Bedford Sq by community groups and HRTC. It would just take a bit of imagination for a theatre group (say) to adapt to what is already there. As venue it's often very cold or wet, so it wouldn't be for all year round use. The design would need carefully looking at to make vandal proof. On feedback forms people have suggested a bandstand, but not that it should be in Bedford Square. On balance I don't think it would be sensible use of public funds to pursue the idea."

Shopping List: "Establishment of a regular market, mainly spent on purchasing market stalls"
Total: £22,000
My comment - "Is there actually a demand from traders? Dunstable market has really floundered, and in the past HRTC have struggled to find even one stall-holder. Let the demand for a market be driven by traders coming to HRTC to ask, not the other way around."

Shopping List: "Establishment of specialist markets, mainly spent on purchasing market stalls.
Total: £26,000
My comment: "Is there actually a demand from traders? Dunstable market has really floundered, and in the past HRTC have struggled to find even one stall-holder. Let the demand for a market be driven by traders coming to HRTC to ask, not the other way around."

Shopping List: "Support to Local entrepreneurs
Total: £11,800
My comment: "I have no idea what that means."

Shopping List: "Shop local loyalty scheme"
Total: £7,000
My comment - "I don't agree with loyalty schemes. I believe in freedom of choice."

Shopping List: "Deliver town centre publicity"
Total: £2,000
My Comment - "What for?"

Shopping List: "To develop a Town Team"
Total: £217,800
My comment - " '£168,000 to go on appointment of supporting staff'. Wow! If along the lines of Dunstable Town Ranger then it might be worthwhile. Although, from what I know of the Town Ranger, many of the things tackled by this 'town' employee should really be in the domain of the Central Bedfordshire Council to manage.

Now, I'm happy to be torn to pieces over my comments, I just want this debated, and my council tax spent to actually improve my life.

Update 23/4/2016: CBC have shortlisted the Houghton Regis scheme and a decision is expected on June 7th. See http://www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/news/april/market-town-regeneration-fund.aspx