Yesterday saw what has become an annual meeting of business and community leaders – Felixstowe Horizons – facilitated by Felixstowe Forward and the local councils, to give us a chance to discuss present and future projects and voice concerns or suggestions on how to improve our Town.
Last year a number of plans were unveiled including the controversial North Garden Village and demolishing and moving the Leisure Centre.
This year it was more a case of consolidation and reiteration from new East Suffolk Council leader Steve Gallant, as he assured us that Felixstowe was very much on the Council radar – being the second largest town in the new much larger East Coast district – for continuing improvements.
Felixstowe is in fact to receive £950,000 from the government Coastal Communities Fund, earmarked to regenerate the south seafront area, although very little was said about this. Maybe due to the fact that it has recently emerged that most of that money will be spent on a new beach cafe/restaurant on Martello Park – something that residents of that area have bitterly opposed due to the fact no one told them it was in the plans when they bought their houses. And it does also mean that the original plan, also unveiled at last year’s meeting, to transform the Sea Road gardens will have to be put on hold until more money is available.
There also seemed to be an assumption that the North Garden Village will go ahead – and it is more a case of trying to save what open space we can – good work is being done in this area by a group specifically devoted to saving The Grove Wood by designating it a ‘country park’.
Instead there was a presentation from ‘People and Places’, who run the leisure centres in the district on behalf of the council, on the results of a survey by them of the local’s views of the high street, and some discussion of what could be done to improve it – the usual suggestions of a BID district and free car parking at certain times – plus the possibility of more government regeneration money – this time to improve heritage buildings.
Then there was a run down of statistics from Chloe Winlow, the new Communities Liaison for East Suffolk Council, telling us what we already knew about the mix of ages in our area.
So it was left to us on the floor to have round table discussions on what we thought could be done to improve facilities for vulnerable children and adults, the disabled and those with dementia (more support, more funding), what could be done to improve our green and open spaces ( don’t build on them !), and how the town centre could be rejuvenated ( more and better markets and weekend pedestrianisation, and pop up businesses in empty shops).
There was a lot said about the need for some joined up thinking to enable community groups to work better together – maybe a central hub of information – and it was interesting to note the number of voluntary groups who are working quietly away to make Felixstowe a more comfortable and welcoming place to live.
Unfortunately there wasn’t a chance to feed back the results of our discussions – but we were assured everything we had written down would be looked at and collated – if not actually acted upon.
There is a lot of good things about our town – and a lot of people working hard to make it a good place to live and work, very often un paid and unsung. But it’s very easy to ruin an area with ‘improvements’.
There is a drive by Felixstowe Forward to draw up a Town Plan for the High Street to look at concerns and new ideas.
Let’s hope those in authority take a lot more notice of local concerns as well as ploughing ahead with their own agendas – however worthwhile they might think they are.