Wisbech gearing up to bid for Mary Portas project place

Residents, traders and councillors are hoping to secure up to �100,000 of government money to regenerate Wisbech town centre.

More than 50 people packed the town council chamber last night for a meeting to discuss a bid for the town team pilot scheme from Department of Communities and Local Government.

The meeting was set up by Jaqui Fairfax, chairman of the Fenland Chamber of Commerce, after the government said it was looking to find 12 towns to share �1m in funding to set up town teams to examine ways of protecting and supporting high streets.

The pilot scheme was set up after a high-profile report on the future of high streets was published in December by Mary Portas, star of the BBC television programme Mary Queen of Shops.

The meeting also came after a controversial report in the Daily Mail which claimed 'the Baltic Mafia is terrorising' Wisbech.

Samantha Hoy, county councillor for Wisbech North, helped Mrs Fairfax to set up the meeting.

She said: 'The meeting was very well attended and it went really well. There were at least 50 people there with a good mixture of residents and businesses.

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'There are people who say people don't care about the town but I think yesterday's meeting shows people do care.'

During the meeting Mrs Fairfax, , who led the meeting, divided people into small groups and asked them to come up with their top three suggestions for Wisbech.

After more than an hour of explanation, brainstorm and argument, it was decided that the refurbishment of Constantine House, the improvement of the Market Place and a new town manager role could be the key ingredients in Wisbech's regeneration.

Mrs Fairfax said: 'I'm absolutely thrilled with it. I think it was very valuable and it let people air their views.

'It is a good sign that so many people dragged themselves out on a Monday night. We had them working together in teams, which was great to see.'

Traders and residents spoke at the meeting positively about Wisbech's multicultarlism and it was agreed any bid should hinge on this while also looking to exploit the artistic side of the town.

Paul Davies, who owns Top to Toe hair and beauty salon, suggested building a European Food Hall to bring the community together.

He said: 'If I could get Eastern Europeans to come and work in my business I would be delighted because at the moment there is a communication problem. Who wants to get their hair cut by someone who doesn't understand them?

'Wisbech's past is fantastic and it will never go away - but we need to develop a new culture for a new generation of people.

'It's like the Emperor's clothes. If you hear Wisbech is good often enough you will start to understand that - but if the Daily Mail are saying that it's run by Baltic Mafia then there's a problem.

'I come from an industrial town in the North East - believe me, Wisbech is beautiful.'

A host of other ideas were also voiced including a week-long Wisbech music festival, a new town magazine and even a Jamie Oliver style restaurant for training chefs and waiters.

Many residents pleaded for the town to be 'tidied up' while there was also concerns raised about the crime rate.

County councillor Steve Tierney suggested the creation of an 'arts quarter' and several people called for the appointment of a town manager to promote and organise Wisbech's events.

Wisbech Mayor Jonathan Farmer said: 'What is heartening is that there's obviously a significant number of people who are passionate about this.'

There will be another meeting on Friday at the town council chamber at 7pm to develop the ideas raised by residents and businesses.

Meanwhile Wisbech resident David Prestidge, who has set up a Wisbech Community Forum blog, is still looking for people to complete a survey on the town.

He said: 'I am depressed by the lack of dialogue and sensible discussion about the problems that ordinary people face in Wisbech.

'We seem caught between national media scare-mongering and the rose-tinted glasses of some local politicians and civic leaders.

'On the Wisbech Community Forum, there is an opportunity for people to have their say. The site is not connected to or supported by local businesses or political groups.

'I have posted a survey there which has already attracted a lot of interest. The survey will be kept online until Sunday (February 26).

'I will then analyse the results and make the findings public. I would ask anyone who lives in the town or surrounding villages to complete the survey.

'It is free, anonymous, and requires no sign-up. I will stress again that the blog is completely unconnected to any political party.'

You can complete the survey by clicking the link on the right-hand side of this page.

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