Axminster Conservative Councillor Ian Hall has challenged the area’s two Conservative MPs to press for more credible support from Westminster after the town suffered another in a series of economic setbacks.
The Conservative district councillor, who was re-elected to represent the town in May, despite his party losing control of East Devon after 45 years, says he feels the Tory administration in Westminster has abandoned the town.
This follows news that the Government has rebuffed Axminster’s application for help from a Future High Streets Fund grant at the second stage.
The former Conservative administration at EDDC applied to Westminster in March for Axminster to receive a share of the £675 million set aside as part of Government’s Our Plan for the High Street.
It became clear that Axminster had lost out when the shortlist of successful bids for up to £150,000 was announced last week, with the nearest places to go forward being Taunton and Yeovil.
Ian Hall said: “Axminster seems to be the forgotten town of East Devon when it comes to any kind of support from Central Government. There’s been a catalogue of decisions going against us, which have left those of us who are working hard to revitalise the town during challenging economic times feeling like nobody in power cares about us.
“I’ve now contacted our two local MPs – Neil Parish and Hugo Swire – challenging them to press colleagues in Government to recognise that Axminster will be in dire straits if it doesn’t see some positive action”.
In March, Ian Hall described a Whitehall decision to backtrack on an earlier promise of a £10 million grant for the proposed Axminster Relief Road as a ‘betrayal’ because changing the grant to a loan rendered the entire Axminster Masterplan unviable.
Since then, there’s been more gloom for Axminster, with Goulds announcing an autumn closure of the town’s Trinity House department store and McColls newsagent in Victoria Place expected to cease trading.
An angry Ian Hall said: “Enough is enough. Axminster is fighting for its life at the moment. There are people in this town – and I’m one of them – working incredibly hard to keep ourselves afloat against really tough odds. But all we’re getting from this Government [HIS GOVERNMENT!!!] is one kick in the teeth after another.
“There’s only so much people here on the ground can do. I’m fighting Axminster’s corner at district and county level. But our local efforts can only make a difference if we get support from central funds. No one at Westminster seems to understand the desperate position we are in – let alone care about it. If you take away people’s hope, why shouldn’t they just give up?
“I’m hoping the two men who local people elected to protect our interests [!] will start rattling some cages in Westminster. We will soon have a new Prime Minister and a fresh administration in Whitehall. I’m challenging our MPs to get Axminster on their radar and to secure some tangible recognition of our town’s fantastic record of self-help.
“Meanwhile, we also have a new administration running East Devon. I also challenge them to do their bit, as a matter of urgency, to help our fantastic town to thrive and prosper”.