District Council is '˜leading the way' in battle to boost economy

East Lindsey District Council is set to launch a series of initiatives to boost the region's economy with particular focus on tourism and town centres.

Louth's Market Place last Friday lunchtime.

The authority says it has ‘no plans’ to axe any of its loss making town markets, and is launching two schemes designed to help businesses.

Regarding tourism, ELDC is hoping a series of articles in national publications will attract more visitors and improve already impressive figures.

On the downside, the district council has confirmed the So Festival - which attracted thousands of visitors to inland towns like Louth and Horncastle - will only take place in coastal resorts both this year and for the foreseeable future.

Coun Adam Grist

Details of the authority’s plans emerged during a presentation by Coun Adam Grist, ELDC’s Portfolio Holder for Market Towns and the Rural Economy, at a meeting of town councillors in Horncastle last week.

Coun Grist said that it had been ‘incredibly difficult’ for ELDC to produce a balanced budget for 2018 - because of severe cuts in funding.

However, he stressed the council was determined to do everything it could to help existing businesses and attract new investment.

Coun Grist was questioned by some councillors about the viability of markets.

Coun Adam Grist

Some of the markets date back nearly 800 years, but Coun Grist admitted ELDC was currently subsidising them by between £50-60,000 a year.

He admitted markets in many towns - including Louth, Alford, Horncastle and Spilsby - were ‘not what they once were’ and were struggling to attract customers and stallholders.

Coun Grist said one of the main problems for markets - and town centres in general - was the increasing popularity of internet shopping.

He confirmed ELDC was talking to other authorities to explore ways of stimulating markets, which he stressed still had an important role to play.

However, he admitted the impact of internet shopping was likely to increase.

He added: “Shopping patterns are changing.

“As a nation, we are spending furiously on the internet.

“As a result, markets and high streets in general are going to be increasingly challenged to survive.”

Coun Grist revealed ELDC had brought in a discount price for stallholders who booked in advance.

He also said the council was experimenting with ‘pop up’ market stalls which, although not popular with traders, would save ELDC thousands of pounds in transport costs.

Coun Grist revealed officers from ELDC had been talking to their counterparts in Saffron Walden, Essex, which recently won a national award for markets.

He said: “In truth, they are not doing much different to us.

“We have no plans to change the pattern of our markets.

“Clearly, though, there will come a time when we have to have a difficult conversation (about the future of markets),but we are not at that stage yet.”

Regarding tourism, Coun Grist hailed the ‘Love Lincolnshire Wolds’ campaign and website as a major success.

He said a number of national publications had sent representatives to the Wolds last year and a series of articles were due to be published over the coming weeks, highlighting the attraction of the Wolds and its market towns.

He said some of the articles would focus on cycling and walking, and confirmed the authority was hoping to open up new routes.

Coun Grist added the new promotions would be an addition to ongoing efforts to attract visitors.

However, he admitted that ELDC‘s own funds for promoting new tourism initiatives were tight.

Coun Grist went on to discuss the future of town centres amid reports many established businesses across the district are struggling.

In Horncastle, for example, two major banks have pulled out of the town and their former premises have still to be occupied.

Coun Grist said ELDC was setting up a ‘micro business’ grant fund.

He revealed businesses with a maximum of nine employees could apply for grants of up to £3,000 to help with what he called ‘innovation and support’ projects.

He also confirmed ELDC was bringing back the ‘shop front’ grants which are designed to improve the appearance of town centres.

He said individual businesses would be able to apply for funding so premises ‘were part of the street scene, rather than looking dilapidated’.

Coun Grist accepted it was a difficult time for all retailers but stressed that independently-owned outlets had a vital role to play in the local economy - and in plans to attract more visitors.