Opposition councillors criticise plan to invest millions in Stowmarket
- Credit: GREGG BROWN
A number of opposition councillors have expressed their doubts about a new multi-million pound plan to transform Stowmarket – arguing greater focus is needed on improving transport in the town.
The Green Party councillors have welcomed Mid Suffolk District Council’s (MSDC) decision to invest in Stowmarket, but call for much more emphasis on sustainable travel – claiming the town should embrace its hinterland villages rather than spending on major regeneration.
The ‘Vision for Prosperity’, which will be officially launched on Saturday, June 16, has been in the works following a public consultation in October last year – and aims to invest in all areas of the town to improve the economy, community and cultural offering.
Among the measures included are extended free Wi-Fi in the town centre, enhancements to public areas with sculptures and art, an upgrade to the Cedars Hotel by Best Western Group, a new drive-through Costa and McDonalds.
However the Green Party councillors were disappointed to see the plan dismisses an internal bus service for the town, with the assertion that Stowmarket is too small for it to be viable.
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Group leader Rachel Eburne said: “We need to link up and draw the villages into Stowmarket, while easing the traffic gridlock. That means bus services and more safe cycle routes to nearby settlements, where now people have to rely on cars.”
Fellow Green councillor John Matthissen added: “The service introduced a few years ago was never promoted, so few people knew where or when it ran.
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“The county council has a duty as the transport authority to encourage and support greater bus use, and it has failed the town.”
The councillors argue that the plan should promote sustainable transport in particular, with a focus on cycle routes and walkways.
Miles Row, Stowmarket Town Council representative for St Peter’s Ward, said: “With government and health organisations all urging cleaner air and more exercise, you would hope the vision would have plenty to say about improving conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.”
Ms Eburne added: “Viewed in the context of the urgent need to cut carbon emissions, backed by targets incorporated in law, the neglect of sustainable travel is unacceptable on all levels.”
Other measures put forward in the plan include creating a technology hub, a £250,000 shop front improvement project, a brand new building for Stowmarket high School, new primary school and redevelopments of the former Needham Market and Stowmarket middle schools into housing.
Gerard Brewster, MSDC cabinet member for the economy, said: “While there is a strong economic focus to the proposals, there are social and cultural projects such as sports development and new schools. There are also a range of projects that will enhance the environment including tree planting schemes, and riverside wildlife habitat improvements.
“We’re also looking at ways to develop public transport, cycling and walking options – particularly where it helps residents from the villages to access Stowmarket in a sustainable way.”