MP calls for economic vision to attract visitors to ancient city

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A TASKFORCE is due to be established to develop a long-term economic vision for one of England’s oldest cities amid concerns that enterprise and new business are being stifled.

A concerted campaign has been launched to revitalise the heart of Ripon after fears were voiced over the city’s retail and tourism sectors.

The MP for Ripon and Skipton, Julian Smith, has now called for a development plan spanning the next decade to be drawn up for the city, which was founded more than 1,300 years ago.

The vision for the next 10 years is due to build on the work that is already underway after a new city development manager, Angela Harris, has been appointed to spearhead a marketing push to create more robust economic foundations.

The Yorkshire Post revealed in March that a bid has also been submitted 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 admitted in December last year that the city’s development had stuttered in recent years as there had not been a clear vision to drive forward investment.

He chaired a summit meeting of business and tourism leaders on Saturday when he announced the plans to create the taskforce to develop the vision for Ripon’s economy.

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.

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

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 that 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 that 250,000 people visit the World Heritage site of Fountains Abbey, Newby Hall and the Lightwater Valley amusement park each year. But only 100,000 visitors actually make their way into Ripon city centre.

Welcome to Yorkshire’s chief executive, Gary Verity, attended the meeting at the weekend which was chaired by Mr Smith.

He 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.”

The Greater Ripon Improvement Partnership’s chairman, Judith Donovan, welcomed the moves to create a long-term economic strategy, but warned that existing problems should not be neglected amid a desire to look to the future.

A survey of traders revealed 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.

She added: “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 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.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government confirmed a decision is due to be announced by the end of May as to which of the bids prepared by 371 towns to become one of 12 Portas pilot areas have been successful.