Buxton is leading the field in the ways towns plan for their future, the Buxton 2020 Conference heard last week.
Twenty of the town’s key organisations, from the University of Derby and High Peak Borough Council to Transition Buxton and Danubius – the European spa experts who will be running the regenerated Crescent – were given five minutes each to outline their hopes for the next five years.
Run by Vision Buxton and Buxton Town Team, the conference in the Pavilion Arts Centre also saw community and business leaders field questions from invited members of the public.
“I’ve never been in a conversation before with an entire town about where that town wants to go,” said Jim Seymour, of Derbyshire County Council highways and public transport department. “You really are leading the field in this.”
The day focussed on the mix of challenges and opportunities Buxton faced. High Peak Borough Council Leader Caitlin Bisknell spoke of the £10 million lost from the council budget – and the town’s economy – in cuts over the last four years.
Local organisations and businesses were taking up the challenge of promoting the town with projects such as the Town’s Team’s Spring Fair, the Serpentine food project and the Crescent redevelopment.
And Cllr Bisknell said young people in Fairfield had demonstrated that Buxton’s community spirit was in good hands when they put snow clearing for the elderly and St Peter’s Church ahead of sledging during the recent wintry weather.
A director of Vision Buxton and Buxton Town Team, Roddie McLean said that in 1801, just ten years after the Crescent was built, the population of Buxton was 760 – the same as 21st Century Great Longstone.
Now the Crescent was finally on track to regaining its former glory, and the aim of the conference was to make the most of this second opportunity for the town to grow: “Our hope is that our small attempt to bring people together will result in something surprising, perhaps even wonderful.”
And Richard Silson, of Buxton Town Team, predicted: “The best is yet to come.”
Buxton has received £83 million in grants to transform its heritage buildings since 1980 – helping to turn its economy from stagnation to growth, said Richard Tuffrey, of High Peak Borough Council.
“Buxton was stagnating in the 20th Century,” he said. “It was a below average wage town and now above average.”
The best example of this investment had been the University of Derby’s transformation of the Devonshire Dome, which was soon to enter a partnership with the Crescent: “We have the ability to create a centre of excellence in spa treatment,” said Mr Tuffrey, who is also leading a bid for grants to transform the townscape heritage of Spring Gardens.
I’ve never been in a conversation before with an entire town about where that town wants to go. You really are leading the field in this.Jim Seymour, Derbyshire County Council
His colleague Mark James said there would be 700 new homes in Buxton in the next 15 years, with the regeneration of the railway station area a priority.
And the developer behind the Crescent scheme, Trevor Osborne, promised: “Buxton can be the UK’s leading spa town.”
He envisaged a town which had music, drama, and literature festivals 12 months a year, building on the University’s boost to the economy and Buxton’s international renown.
Buxton is entering a great period of renaissance, said Buxton Festival marketing officer and Vision Buxton member Liz McKenzie.
Vision Buxton was promoting the town to the group and coach tourist industry, and 40 firms had recently come to see what Buxton had to offer in the wake of a promotion at the National Exhibition Centre.
Shoppers have the power to transform Buxton’s retail economy, said Transition Buxton’s Jean Ball.
Spending £10 in local businesses puts £25 into the local economy – while the same amount in a multinational chain store leaves just £2.50 locally, she said.
“Many small actions add up,” said Mrs Ball. “If only ten per cent of people in Buxton bought their food locally, it would put £800,000 into the economy.”
Buxton Town Team is to lodge an objection against plans for another supermarket at the former water bottling plant off Station Road. Crescent developer Trevor Osborne said that Buxton could be “a town which retains a diverse group of independent traders with no vacant shops” – if the plans were resisted.
The University of Derby’s vision for 2020 is to increase its number of students at the Buxton campus from 800 to 1,000, said Dr Sarah Rawlinson, the head of the Hotel, Resort and Spa Management School.
Five new jobs were being created every year on average at the university, with international students spreading the word about Buxton across the globe.
Ninety-six per cent of graduates from the school – which has been voted one of the top 30 hotel schools worldwide – find work within six months of gaining their degrees.
And a team of Buxton students recently became the top UK university team in a major European competition for young entrepreneurs.
In Further Education, Principal of Buxton and Leek College Len Tildsley said his students had completed the equivalent of 20,000 hours of volunteering last year – and were aiming for 40,000 in 2015/16.
Asked about the commitment to lifelong learning, he said the college had students ranging from 14 to 90 – but only £1,200 had been allocated by the Government to put on adult education courses: “That is terrible for a place like Buxton.”
The college has been rated fifth nationally out of 314, and has a 97.5 per cent pass rate for 16-18 year-olds on full-time courses.
Peak Rail still believes it can re-open the Buxton to Matlock rail line - and the conference also heard a call for an increase in services from Manchester to Buxton from hourly to every 30 minutes.
The redevelopment of the former Buxton Mineral Water bottling site was an opportunity to kick-start the Buxton-Matlock re-opening: “This has put Buxton back at the top of our agenda,” said Peak Rail’s Paul Tomlinson. “We are in dialogue with the developers.”
Peak Rail had retained the right to run railway lines across the site when it sold most of the land 25 years ago due to financial difficulties.
Now that had all changed: “Peak Rail is no longer a little struggling company, but a very successful business in its own right,” he said. “We are going to get here. What we are going to have in Buxton is a major new railway line from the south. It is going to generate another 300,000 passengers per annum, and £15 million into the local economy.”
Mike Rose, of High Peak and Hope Valley Community Rail, said the Buxton-Manchester service could be doubled: “We have so many passengers we can justify half-hourly services. Technically it is really easy, and that will make an enormous difference to people in Buxton.”
He also hoped to see the demolition of the “unspeakably” ugly old diesel engine sheds on the approach to Buxton Station demolished and a cycle hire centre built.
And University of Derby Tourism lecturer Tim Heap called for a strategic car parking policy for the town which looked at what type of visitors the town wanted, where it wanted them - and how charges, and one-way systems, could deliver the result Buxton wanted.
Mr Heap gave examples of towns where local shops had been saved by 20 minutes of free parking, and others, like Keswick, where punitive charges at strategic car parks after two hours had helped bring prosperity.