Town Councillors Unhappy With Organisation of Market Town Regeneration Fund

At Monday night's Town Council meeting the main topic up for discussion was going to be the Market Town Regeneration Fund. This was supposed to have been a pot of money from Central Bedfordshire Council that local Town Councils could bid for, provided they could find funding to match it.

Houghton Regis Town Council scrabbled their staff and councillors into extra meetings to do what they could to put together a shopping list of enhancements that they would like to use the money for. The funding criteria  was that the projects would be deliverable, showing a clear vision of business, economic, social and cultural impacts and good return on investment.

As the successful bids began to be announced it became clear that some Towns had put in bids for things such as a Splash Park in Dunstable, and a Heritage Trail in Ampthill. It could be argued that provided such things were in the town centre areas, then they could increase footfall to the town centre and thus regenerate them.

Central Bedfordshire Council’s Executive announced on Tuesday, 7th June that £3.46 million of its Market Towns Regeneration Fund scheme would go to the Town Councils. Ampthill, Dunstable, Flitwick, Houghton Regis, Leighton-Linslade, Potton, Sandy and Shefford stand to benefit. A further £1 million was set aside from the Market Towns Regeneration Fund, to develop an area-wide High Street Improvement Scheme.

But on Monday evening this week, the Town Clerk in Houghton Regis told her councillors that at 3.30pm that day she had only just received detailed information about administration of the scheme. This had left councillors with no time to digest and understand the documentation. And the dilemma was that their next full Town Council meeting was not due until 3rd October.

At the meeting, Cllr David Abbott said that he had read the documentation emailed to him that afternoon. He told the meeting, "It's a dog's breakfast. In view of revelations made at the Town Partnership Committee, that a significant element of the MTRF scheme has been hived off to a separate scheme - namely shop fronts - plus poor criteria at the outset leading to our council's application being unduly restricted, location wise, I have come to the conclusion that we must not be led blindly into accepting what remains."

Cllr Abbott went on to propose a motion of no confidence in value for money for residents in this scheme. His motion had to be withdrawn after it was pointed out that Standing Orders meant motions had to be submitted three days prior to the meeting.

Thereupon a discussion of the situation took place, with other councillors bemoaning that extra meetings would need to be arranged notwithstanding the upcoming standard holiday periods, and councillor's work commitments.  Houghton Regis Town Council had no option but to defer consideration of the offer letter.