One of my most prized childhood memories was the weekly Saturday morning shopping trip with Grandad Arthur in Heckmondwike. The outing always included two eccles cakes and an iced finger, a paper and endless chats with what at the time seemed like the entire population of our busy little town.
Speed forward a few decades and shopping habits and technology mean our town centres aren’t quite as busy or as thriving as they used to be.
Traders, small businesses and shoppers all across the constituency regularly talk to me about this – some believing that there’s no point romanticising the past, times have changed and the future is online or ‘super’. Others – quite a few other people – think there’s an alternative that we should fight for. Just look at Hebden Bridge, somewhere that has found quite a niche.
Over the past year I’ve had regular meetings in Batley to discuss the town centre and in the last week I met again with traders in Heckmondwike, met with the Birstall traders and attended a meeting of the Spenborough Chamber of Trade in Cleckheaton.
One issue that has repeatedly come up is that there is a major issue with local business rates. The cancelled revaluation of business rates by the last Government means local traders are still paying rates based on rental values from 2008, before the world financial crash. Most have seen their rents drop considerably but their rates remain unsustainably high.
I’ve already raised this issue in Parliament and will keep asking for the Government to bring forward its 2017 review to give our high streets a fighting chance.
Im also working with a team to produce a vision for the future of Batley town centre, Im exploring ways to help traders in Heckmondwike and have offered to support the Chamber plans and events in Cleckheaton and Birstall.
I am always impressed at how much hard work and commitment there is from traders, many of whom devote a staggering amount of hours to helping and improving their towns as well as running their own businesses. This effort needs to be recognised and acknowledged. They are passionate about helping making sure our town centres offer something that little bit extra – ranging from organising beautiful hanging baskets to the spectacular Christmas lights switch on events and vintage days.
There will be further public engagement once we have the vision and a clear way forward but I’d like people to start thinking about our town centres and what they think would help.
We must not be naive but we should be bold, creative and ready to work together.
ANOTHER key general election issue was sports provision in the Spen Valley.
Following the election I met with the leader of the council David Sheard and the chief executive of Kirklees Active Leisure Alasdair Brown to discuss progress with the exciting redevelopment and eight figure investment they have planned for a new sports village at the Spen Baths site.
There has been well documented issues and controversy, particularly surrounding Whitcliffe Mount Sports Centre, many of it avoidable. That is why I held a series of meetings over Whitcliffe Mount and have another one in the pipeline.
I will continue working to ensure we have the best sports provision possible in our constituency and Labour’s plans for Spen are something that I think are really exciting.