Tourist information centre to be axed

ONE of the top three tourist information centres in the country looks set to close down next year due to Essex County Council cutbacks.The axe is falling over Harwich Tourist Information Centre, which is funded by the county council, at the cost of £50,000 a year.

By Juliette Maxam

ONE of the top three tourist information centres in the country looks set to close down next year due to Essex County Council cutbacks.

The axe is falling over Harwich Tourist Information Centre, which is funded by the county council, at the cost of £50,000 a year.

The council is scrapping the centre's funding from the next financial year as part of £1million of cutbacks in the county's enterprise budget.

Unless other organisations, such as Tendring District Council or the East Anglian Tourist Board, step in with the cash needed to run it, the centre will close in the spring.

The centre, in Safeway's carpark near Harwich International Port, is currently in a shortlist of three to be named top tourist information centre in the country.

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Yesterday Harwich MP Ivan Henderson slammed the county council's decision and vowed to do all he can to save the centre.

"I think the decision's absolutely ridiculous when Essex County Council holds such a high level position in the Haven Gateway project and knows how important it is to generate economic growth in the port and across the region. To shut down the tourist information centre is the most ridiculous decision they've made so far.

"When you think of the economic growth the centre helps create, £50,000 a year is a good investment."

"I shall be raising it with the county council and writing to the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell," he added.

The former manager of Harwich Tourist Information Centre, Ans Bartholomew, who worked there for 29 years and was awarded an MBE for her services to the tourist industry, said: "I'm very, very sad. The work has always been undervalued. The problem is one has to make money to survive, but the trouble is with a tourist information centre you're not the one making money – others make it from your efforts which is very hard to prove."

She added: "I think it's always been under threat and survived. This time I feel it's going to go under."

Essex County Council cabinet member for planning, enterprise and regeneration Peter Martin blamed the decision on £70 million of cuts the county council has got to make over the coming years due to decreased Government funding.

He said the county council is the only one in the country to fund a tourist information centre. It is in discussion with other organisations such as Tendring District Council, the Haven Gateway and the East Anglian Tourist Board to find new funding, but none has emerged so far.

He said other tourism projects such as the Real Essex campaign and the Essex Chef of the Future competition will continue.

"We very much regret this and we hope with partners we can find a way for the tourist information centre to remain open," he added.

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