After taking over the reins as the new leader of High Peak Borough Council, Labour councillor Anthony McKeown believes there is an element of hope for a new future and wants people from all political parties to come together to improve the lives of people in the district.
In May, Labour councillors won a majority of seats on the borough council to secure overall control of the authority from the Conservatives.
Now after three months the council has appointed a full cabinet and is looking in a new direction. Coun McKeown said: “We want to be more responsive to residents. We want to make it so it’s easier to contact the council and not have people screaming into the void. “Our key issues include providing more council housing at an affordable rate and we will also be concentrating on climate change and will be installing four electric car charging points across the borough. “We also want to be thinking about when we procure big building contracts to make sure it works for the people of High Peak, use local contractors and offer apprenticeships as well.”
Coun McKeown said the council was doing a lot to support independent and chain retailers. He said: “We have applied to get a share of the Future High Streets Fund but even if we don’t get any of that money we have ideas on how to help traders.
“No-one like seeing empty units such as Marks & Spencer and we are working to get a new trader in there as soon as possible. “With the other empty shops we want to get them open, even if that means opening them up to charities or getting multiple people to share the space.
“We need to look at the bigger picture, Buxton is a difficult shopping area as it is split so we need to be advertising Higher Buxton in the Springs and Spring Gardens on the High Street. “When the Crescent is open more retailers will want to be opening up in Buxton, but for now we have to help people who are trading here. We have so much empty office space above the retail units, we need to be making the most of that and I would like to see all those buildings full because by doing that we are bringing in more people who will have lunch breaks and spend money in the town.”
The council also plans to tackle the issue of parking to help support businesses. Coun McKeown said: “I also want to be looking at parking and how parking impacts businesses and shoppers. “We need the parking charges as that money is a vital part of council revenue and while residents do get discounted parking at certain times of the day I am open to looking for new schemes that draw more people into the town to shop, eat and drink. “I am aware there are problems with both The Springs and the Pavilion Gardens car parks at night and we need to think creatively to tackle this. “We are already working with Derbyshire police and the safer neighbourhood team. This behaviour has to stop if we want to encourage a night-time economy to the town, but I don’t know yet if there is a simple change we can do to keep people away, or whether we need to look at something more drastic.”
The Buxton Business Improvement District is not being organised by the council, and Coun McKeown has mixed feelings should it come to fruition. He said: “For me it is a double-edged sword. While on one hand there is a specific pot of money to help boost the town’s trade, the small businesses won’t pay and it won’t impact the huge chains, but for the businesses who meet the funding requirements paying an extra levy could be the difference between keeping the business open or not.”
As the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union either with or without a trade deal, Coun McKeown said High Peak Borough Council was also getting ready to help people and businesses. The council has appointed a special liaison to work with central government. Coun McKeown said: “We are trying to get plans in place now. We have businesses in the High Peak who export to the EU, and EU nationals living in the borough. We don’t yet know how this will pan out but we can ensure that those who receive EU funding will continue to do so and those who live here can remain in the place they call home.”
Derbyshire County Council has put forward proposals for a new roundabout on the A6 at Fairfield Common.
The roundabout and connecting roads will create access for house building in the Hogshaw area to the west of the A6 and on land to the south of Waterswallows Road and east of Tongue Lane. However some residents feel this will cause more problems than it will solve. Coun McKeown said: “The roundabout is only one part of the bigger picture, but because of planning regulations plans can only be put forward for very specific ideas one at a time. I would love to see traffic taken away from Fairfield Road and get some of the big lorries away from residential areas, and that is the long-term plan, but for now we need to focus on getting spades in the ground on the common before we look at the next part of the puzzle.”
In the wake of the Toddbrook Reservoir incident, Coun McKeown praised the spirit shown by residents and the emergency responders who helped to avert disaster.
He said: “The way people want to be kept informed has changed - no longer will monthly meetings in a dusty church hall be good enough, people want to know what is happening immediately and the rise of social media has certainly helped, but we know we can do more. “We are here to support the businesses and residents, and going forward we will be working with both to get the town back on its feet.”