Calls for clear vision to ensure city’s economy is not stifled

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FEARS have been voiced by a North Yorkshire MP that one of England’s oldest cities could be plunged into a deepening economic crisis unless a more united front is forged to attract millions of pounds of investment.

Calls have now been made for a clear strategy to be drawn up to drive forward enterprise in Ripon to ensure that the city has the greatest possible chance of attracting major funding and new business to counter the economic slump.

The Conservative MP for Skipton and Ripon, Julian Smith, admitted that the city’s development had stuttered in recent years as there had not been a clear vision to drive forward investment.

But efforts are now under way to ensure local authorities are working closely with the private sector after Mr Smith chaired a summit meeting involving business leaders, councillors and representatives from leading tourist attractions.

Mr Smith said: “Until we have a clear voice and vision in Ripon, it is going to be difficult to secure money for investment, whether it be from the Government or from private business.

“We need to make sure that Ripon is as attractive as possible for both new business and the tourism trade. I have been heartened by the fact that the city council and other groups are looking to work closely together. But we do not have a choice – we have to make this work for the future of Ripon.”

The summit meeting, which was held at the weekend, involved representatives from North Yorkshire County Council, Harrogate Borough Council and Ripon City Council as well as the Greater Ripon Improvement Partnership and the Chamber of Trade and Civic Society. Officials from Ripon Cathedral, Lightwater Valley, Newby Hall and Fountains Abbey were also at the meeting.

Another meeting has been planned for Easter to discuss how the action plan to bolster economic growth is progressing amid the ongoing drive to counter fears over Ripon’s economy.

The Yorkshire Post revealed in May that business leaders had warned Ripon could become an “economic orphan” to Harrogate as politicians seek to capitalise on Yorkshire’s burgeoning science and technology sector.

Ripon’s long history has been founded on traditional industries such as farming, but concerns are growing that it could become increasingly alienated from Harrogate.

Like the whole of North Yorkshire, the city’s economy has become increasingly reliant on tourism in recent years, but influential business figures have warned against a rapid shift away from Ripon’s economic foundations.

The Greater Ripon Improvement Partnership’s chairman, Judith Donovan, claimed a concerted push towards new sectors, such as science and research and development, could gravely undermine the city’s economy.

Research has shown that science and technology-related sectors employ more than 35,000 people in North Yorkshire. The county’s creative and digital output is forecast to increase by 55 per cent to almost £1bn by 2016.

A study identified key issues that need to be addressed to help economic growth after a survey of traders revealed that 88 per cent of customers had complained about parking, and concerns were also voiced over a lack of clear signage. Many visitors have been left without clear directions to some of Ripon’s main tourist spots, such as the city’s cathedral, as well as nearby attractions including the World Heritage site of Fountains Abbey.

Research has also shown the importance of the city and the surrounding area on the district’s economy. A survey of employers with a turn-over of more than £1m in Ripon, Melmerby and Masham revealed 70 per cent traded nationally or internationally. A total of 18 of the 21 firms which responded employ more than 1,000 employees and have a combined turnover in excess of £230m.

paul.jeeves@ypn.co.uk