Councillor's 'dying town' claims are criticised

Councillor's 'dying town' claims are criticised

A COUNCILLOR’S claims that Keighley was a “dying town” were heavily criticised during an online Council meeting.

Councillor John Pennington is leader of the Conservative Group on Bradford Council as well as representing Bingley as a ward Councillor.

At a meeting of the Council’s Executive today, he described Keighley as a “dying town” referring to the recent loss of key businesses such as Marks & Spencer and Beales.

But his comments were criticised by other Councillors and the boss of the town’s Airedale Shopping Centre.

The Executive were discussing the Keighley Business Improvement District when Cllr Pennington, who lives in Riddlesden, made the comments.

Waves of visitors head to Keighley beach

The BID is a scheme that sees local businesses pay a levy that is then used on schemes to support the local economy and attract more people to the area. The Keighley BID was set up five years ago – the first BID in the District. Since then it has funded events like “Keighley By The Sea” – a temporary beach in the town centre, and the annual Christmas lights switch on.

Other improvements made during the first five years include a sound system added to Cavendish Street, boosting the town’s social media presence and producing town centre guides.

And a report to the Executive said bulk buying powers had helped the BID reduce costs for many local businesses.

The five year BID term ends in December, and a ballot will be held early next year to decide whether it continues for another five years. The ballot is being slightly delayed due to the Covid 19 lockdown.

The meeting heard from Steve Seymour – manager of the Airedale Shopping Centre, who spoke of the successes of the scheme.

He said bosses of other shopping centres throughout the country had been so impressed by what the Keighley BID had achieved, they had lobbied their local Councils to get one started.

Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe said the authority would support the push for another five years of the scheme, adding: “I love Keighley BID. It has achieved great things.”

She said the BID had helped shape the success of BIDs in Ilkley and Bradford city centre.

Cllr Pennington had asked to speak on the item, and said: “I don’t love the BID as much as you all do.

“I believe it is just another tax on businesses. Even businesses that are against it have to pay for it.

“I would like to see some examples of businesses that have been helped to reduce their costs.

“Keighley is a dying town, it has lost Marks & Spencer, it has lost Beales…”

He was then interrupted by a visibly annoyed Cllr Hinchcliffe, who said: “Keighley is a vibrant place, we should all support it – it is not a dying town.”

Cllr Pennington replied: “Just have a walk round it.”

Cllr Hinchcliffe said: “I’m not writing Keighley off, we’re investing in Keighley and we believe in Keighley.”

The town’s branch of Marks & Spencer shut in 2018 as part of a wave of national store closures, while neighbouring department store Beales shut earlier this year after the company went into administration.

Beales store in Keighley to close within eight weeks

Mr Seymore said: “Support Keighley, don’t knock it. It needs all the support it can get.

“People are waiting to take on empty units in the centre. Yes we’ve lost M&S and lost Beales, but that is not a Keighley issue, it is a national issue.

“The town needs support from the government and support from the local Council.

“We don’t need comments from people saying the town is dying. It doesn’t help anyone, it just gets people’s backs up.”

When asked if he wanted to reply to Cllr Pennington, Councillor Alex Ross Shaw, executive for Regeneration, Planning and Transport, said: “With friends like these, who needs enemies.”

He referred to the Town Fund – a pot of £25 million that will be shared between Keighley and Shipley that was announced shortly before the December General Election.

He said the Council was working to ensure that the towns gained as much of that funding as possible.

The Executive voted to support the ballot for the BID’s second term.