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Wednesday, 08 July 2015

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Great oaks and little acorns

ALL of a sudden things are beginning to look a lot brighter for the borough when it comes to pepping up our area. And it’s not just the multi-million-pound projects that stir feelings of optimism for new beginnings.

The little things also count and can eventually make a big difference.

Take the Portas Pilot bid, for example. How pleasing it is to report that Whitehaven’s bid to become one of the Mary Portas pilots for breathing new economic life into town centres has now been submitted by the local business-led Town Team.

We’ll have to wait until May to find out whether Whitehaven is chosen as one of 12 in England for a share in a £1 million pot for reviving high streets up and down the country.

The competition for those 12 coveted places is tough – no fewer than 350 other towns are in the running. We remain quietly confident of success confident, too, in the knowledge that Whitehaven’s bid (focused mainly on King Street) is the best it can be.

Win or lose this time round (and there will be another dozen places up for grabs next year), the Mary Portas initiative has already succeeded in bringing a new direction, unity and not least a collective community pride into efforts to make Whitehaven the magnet it once was for both shopping and simply strolling around.

This is not to decry anything that has gone before. It’s just that previous attempts have sometimes been fruitless because of the lack of a united common cause.

Suddenly ‘Town Team’ thinking has changed all that – a hard-working band of businesses and enterprise groups are all pulling together. One for all, and all for one, so to speak.

There has to a catalyst for change and this could well be it.

Although the £100,000 prize is small change compared to the millions of pounds which might or might not come our way through nuclear development, the value and status of being associated with the Mary Portas scheme (preferably as a winner) should not be under-estimated. Sometimes you can’t put a price on town pride and how it can spur people on.

On bigger projects, such as Albion Square, the news today that the Treasury has finally given its thumbs up to Whitehaven’s office block development as a new place to work for up to 900 re-located Sellafield staff has to be positive.

It would be welcome not just as a workplace but also for its anticipated spin-off benefits for our retail sector. If it increases the number of people on the streets, hopefully, too, it will then attract new businesses to capitalise on the opportunity.

And now there is talk that bringing in radioactive material from Dounreay’s dismantled fast breeder reactor might be worth at least ‘tens of millions’ to Copeland. It is not the kind of thing a community would normally rush to accept without recompense and reward – we hope that if the waste must come here, this will be the case.

Nuclear new-build and waste may well prove the main panacea for a prosperous Copeland future but much of it is years ahead. For now let’s keep our fingers crossed for a successful Mary Portas bid. From little acorns!


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