Last night we played host to distant relatives of Mrs Z, who were visiting from Australia. We walked through Ilfracombe, down to the seafront and to the harbour.
One of the comments our visitors made was that generally, not just in Ilfracombe but across much of Cornwall and Devon, places look tired and need smartening up. Now I know Ilfracombe has areas it needs to address – the High Street, the derelict amusement arcade site, the Collingwood Hotel (about to be demolished and a new hotel built) and the stalled £1.5 million seafront improvement – but our visitors’ suggestion that the wider South West needed to improve made me think.
Over the past 10+ years, various bodies in the South West have had millions to spend on projects. In North Devon this would include the South West Regional Development Agency, Devon County Council, North Devon Council, North Devon+ plus dozens of other funding bodies, quangos and agencies. Now that the money is drying up, it leads me ask how effective these bodies have been? Did they spend money wisely? What is there to show for it? At various meetings I go to, there seems to be as much need to improve everything from town centres to individual buildings as ever. Have they missed or bungled opportunities?
I don’t believe the public sector should be responsible for (or is capable of achieving) all improvements required and the private sector should be in a better position to look after itself, but many of our tourism businesses and shops seem to struggle themselves. Should they have reinvested more in good times or are there such serious structural problems in our tourism sector that they were not able to reinvest?
Discussing what’s gone wrong in the past will only be of value if it leads to improvements for the future. The coming years look tough, but if places appear shabby now, how can we smarten up our towns and businesses when funding is scarce?
Many of our businesses do a fantastic job and a superb restaurant meal made last night an enjoyable experience. If towns and places were able to look their best, I am sure more people would come here because when you look under the surface you’ll find nowhere better.