To receive an update on the Wiltshire Towns Programme, as resolved by the Select Committee on 14 June 2022.
This report will also include an update on the Towns Programme apps.
Cllr Richard Clewer, Leader of the Council, introduced the update alongside Victoria Moloney, Head of Economy and Regeneration.
It was noted that the Wiltshire Towns Programme was underway, with good engagement and results coming forth, whilst also identifying elements that still needed further development. A brief summary of the primary objectives, strategic plans, and background of the programme was given, and it was highlighted that Rebecca Lockwood Norris, Senior Development Officer – Regeneration, had been recruited to help ease resourcing pressure, thus leading to an acceleration in programme delivery.
It was highlighted that the programme was now in the revitalisation phase, moving past the economic shock of the pandemic. The activities identified under the Towns Programme were then detailed, with further updates on each given. Examples of which being: stakeholder feedback in respect of Vibrant Wiltshire had led officers to make the decision to delay the start of the programme until Autumn 2023, in order to help towns fill vacant units. They felt that introducing and supporting new businesses into high streets at this time would ultimately not help the financial strains that existing businesses were facing with regard to the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis. Furthermore, the Wiltshire Marque programme was highlighted as an activity that would help to elevate the brand of Wiltshire and encourage visitors to support existing producers, both small and large.
Officers noted that they had learnt a lot from engaging with Town Councils regarding the Activity Generation Grants, as many of them had action plans, but for other areas it was a barrier. Therefore, officers had realised that attempting to develop action plans with these Town Councils was not proportionate, and instead had taken a more flexible approach, asking for more outline strategies along with the activities that the Town Councils would like to deliver, to support local areas in developing forward thinking and making their events and branding more sustainable.
An update on the two app proposals was then given. Firstly, the ‘Heritage Trails’ app was raised, with Members being informed that the app would be formally launching with the first tranche of 5 towns onto the platform by the end of June, and the remaining 5 being added over Summer 2023. It was noted that the app would include a link to the ‘Explore Malmesbury’ app as an existing offer, and officers noted that if other towns were in a similar position, to contact officers to provide the same opportunity to ensure consistency across the platform. Forward plans for trails were already being submitted to officers which would be a starting point for further trails, thus building a self-sustaining and refreshing offer to drive footfall. It was further noted that the ‘What’s on in Wiltshire’ app still required further development, but officers emphasised that the Towns Programme was a continuously evolving process. Members were encouraged to provide feedback which officers would then review, reflect and address where appropriate.
During the discussion, points included:
· Success of the scheme would be measured through footfall data and vacancy rates, as these were more realistic for high streets that were particularly facing challenges, as opposed to assessing filled units. Furthermore, encouraging all Town Councils to finalise and submit their action plans or outline strategies was noted as another factor to monitor in terms of measuring success.
· Officers highlighted that in order to further attract local voices and community engagement for the ‘Heritage Trails’ app, they felt that the app and a range of content already needed to be present. This would then encourage people to participate and provide feedback to drive and inform future content and engagement for subsequent app updates.
· It was confirmed that officers were seeking to find residents who actively champion their communities in order to build a strong network of voices to help promote the offerings on the ‘Heritage Trails’ app. Additionally, if a local business fell on a trail, officers would reach out to them to ask if they would promote the trail in order to encourage return visits. Furthermore, social media would be utilised alongside liaising with partners to advertise in their own communities and networks. When advertising for out of County visitors, promotions would be prominent at key entry points, transport routes, and destinations.
· Officers were encouraged to utilise the Members’ themselves as they had their own social connections within their communities. It was then confirmed that newsletters containing relevant links and information would be circulated to Members, Town and Parish Councils in the coming weeks.
· Existing trails, walking routes and subsequent stakeholder relationships were highlighted and it was suggested that officers liaise with these organisers to support each other’s offerings.
· The aspirations of the ‘Heritage Trails’ app were detailed; namely, expanding into further urban and rural communities, and diversifying into promoting points of interest such as environmental assets and Wiltshire’s military heritage.
· Ensuring that communities take more pride in their local areas in order to encourage return visits, was emphasised.
· Members reiterated the need to promote more of the rural areas across the County.
· It was clarified that the ‘Heritage Trails’ app would not focus on simply advertising walking routes, but instead promoting the heritage of Wiltshire and a cogent collection of trails which was not currently being provided within nearby Counties.
· It was further clarified that Town Councils did not have to pay a fee to join the programme as was initially considered during the soft launch of the Towns Programme during the pandemic, as funding had been secured to mitigate this cost.
· Officers noted that funding for the Towns Programme ceased in 2025, however if the programme proved itself during this time, the argument for continued funding would be easier to demonstrate and justify.
· Ongoing discussions with rail companies were confirmed as taking place and their stakeholder managers were aware of the programme, and advertising materials would be shared with them at the appropriate time.
· It was explained that footfall data was in the process of being procured, and that once results started coming through, benchmarks could be developed alongside a further understanding of the different types of visitors both local and outside of Wiltshire, dwell times and other notable impacts.
· The indicative budget of £80k for the ‘What’s on in Wiltshire’ app was raised, and it was noted that although it seemed small in comparison to that of the ‘Heritage Trails’ app, this was because the platform itself was not as complex and would use a framework that could work for all areas across Wiltshire rather than needing to be geographically specific.
· The importance of the ‘What’s on in Wiltshire’ app was stressed with regard to encouraging people to visit places and events that they usually wouldn’t and subsequently supporting local businesses and economies.
· It was clarified that officers were keen to stick closely to the heritage brand within the ‘Heritage Trails’ app and would therefore not be straying into more commercial aspects such as advertising electric vehicle charging points. However, if there was demand for the inclusion of such in the app, officers would reconsider at a later date.
At the conclusion of
the discussion, Cllr Jerry Kunkler proposed to move
recommendations which was seconded by Cllr Bob Jones MBE. After which, it was:
a) The Committee noted the content of the update on the Wiltshire Towns Programme and related activity, including web-app development.
b) The Committee requested that a further update be delivered in 12 months’ time.