Ripon looking to the future with perfect vision

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A TASK force to develop a long-term economic vision for Ripon is set to be formed amid concerns enterprise and new business are being stifled.

The announcement was made by Ripon MP Julian Smith when he hosted his second ‘Ripon: Looking to the Future’ meeting for business and civic leaders at Fountains Abbey conference suite on Saturday – a follow-up to the one held last year.

Calling for a development plan spanning the next decade to be drawn up for the city, he said: “Ripon has so much potential and I am determined that we build on the positive moves taken since the last summit I held in December.

“I have suggested to the many groups present that they establish a ‘20:20 task force’ to develop a strategy for the city for the next decade and I hope that they will meet regularly. I will support them in any way I can and look forward to our next summit meeting in a year’s time.

“There have been problems with a fragmented approach in the past and we do need to make sure people are sitting down and discussing not just a short-term approach to the economic issues that Ripon is facing.”

The vision for the next ten years is due to build on the work that is already underway after a new city development manager, Angela Harris, was appointed to spearhead a marketing push to create more robust economic foundations.

Other initiatives include a bid submitted earlier this year to turn Ripon into one of 12 national pilot areas overseen by retail guru Mary Portas to transform the struggling high street economy.

Mr Smith said: “Like the whole of North Yorkshire, Ripon’s economy has become increasingly reliant on tourism in recent years but studies have shown that the city is not fulfilling its potential.”

Research has revealed Ripon is not exploiting the amount of trade that could be generated from tourists visiting some of the region’s most popular attractions which are located close to the city.

Conservative estimates have claimed 250,000 people visit the World Heritage Site of Fountains Abbey, Newby Hall and the Lightwater Valley amusement park each year – yet only 100,000 visitors actually make their way into Ripon city centre.

Tourist promotion body Welcome to Yorkshire’s chief executive, Gary Verity, who attended the meeting, said: “With a World Heritage Site, cathedral, racecourse, market and theme park on its doorstep, Ripon has many attractions that other towns or cities could only dream of. It is important the city capitalises on this with a united front to attract more visitors and investment for the future.”

Moves to create a long-term economic strategy have been welcomed by Judith Donovan, chairman of the Greater Ripon Improvement Partnership’s (GRIP), but she warned that existing problems should not be neglected amid desires to look to the future.

She said: “I fully support the concept of a long-term vision for Ripon, but we have got to be able to walk before we can run.”

A survey of traders has highlighted on-going issues, revealing 88 per cent of customers had complained about parking and concerns were also voiced over a lack of clear signage. Parking limits have been extended to allow visitors to stay longer, but Ms Donovan stressed more needs to be done.

“A lot of good work has been done already, and things are looking a great deal more promising than they did 12 months ago. But we need to make sure that we get the people who do visit the city centre spending more,” she said.

A decision on which 12 of the 371 towns and cities bidding to become Portas pilots has been successful is due to be announced by the end of May, said a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government.