Project ‘needs £10k now’

PUBLISHED: 10:00 17 June 2016

Archant

Dozens of businesses have signed a petition encouraging Burnham and Highbridge Town Council to grant £10,000 to a coach initiative in a bid to attract a further 700 people a day to Burnham.

Resident Gaynor Brown urged councillors at the full town council meeting last week to provide funding for Project Coach, which was first launched three years ago.

It was previously given £15,000 to spend on promoting Burnham to coach firms across the country.

However, the council said it had not been approached for further funding and Burnham councillor Phil Harvey told the Mercury it would only be supported if the move was ‘in the interest of the council tax-payers’.

Burnham was named most coach-friendly destination at the National Coach Tourism Awards back in February, having also reached the final for the previous three years.

Ms Brown told the meeting: “Despite winning the most prestigious award in the coach industry, our coach traffic has drastically reduced and Project Coach is being stalled into oblivion.

“This can’t wait until July or August. If you don’t make a decision now, the season will be over and the opportunity to cash in on the award will be lost forever.

“Every single shop in the high street has signed up and wants this re-started immediately.

“Project coach needs £10,000 and will attract 700 people a day – it would be quantifiable and guaranteed.”

The town clerk responded by indicating she had not received a request for funding to be put on the agenda, a statement reiterated by Cllr Harvey.

He said: “The first thing I will say is the town council has not received a request for funding. Nobody has made an approach to us.

“Next I will say that the grant was given to them before and then it was decided it was going to be self-funded.

“One has to ask themselves what went wrong so that they need money again.

“They need to also go through Sedgemoor District Council first and that is perhaps why the town council has not had an official approach.

“Our grant money comes entirely from council tax-payers and so we need to know the money is going somewhere that is in the interest of them.

“Before I became a councillor, our budget was around £20,000 and it quickly became clear this was not enough.

“So, it is now £55,000 – which is 10 per cent of the council tax money.

“The money is there for community events – it is not there for businesses. If we can see it is a good thing for the council tax-payer then we will of course think about awarding the funding.

“If it came to awarding the money, we would perhaps award it as something else – not using the council tax money for community grants.”

Ms Brown told the meeting the numbers ‘speak for themselves’ and it is estimated Project Coach brought around £233,000 of trade to the town when the last grant was awarded.

She said: “We sometimes welcomed 10, sometimes 15, coaches every day.

Each of these brought 50-70 visitors spending money in our local businesses, which is a total of 700 per day.

“Following the loss of 50 per cent of the town’s footfall from the closure of Morrisons, we should be pulling out all the stops to encourage every bit of footfall we can capture.

“Burnham needs Project Coach and it needs it now.”

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