Ripon looks to the future

From left, chairman of North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership Barry Dodd, Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith, and Welcome to Yorkshire sales and marketing director Peter Dodd at the 'Ripon: Looking to the future' event held at Fountains Abbey Visitor Centre on Saturday, December 3, 2011.

From left, chairman of North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership Barry Dodd, Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith, and Welcome to Yorkshire sales and marketing director Peter Dodd at the 'Ripon: Looking to the future' event held at Fountains Abbey Visitor Centre on Saturday, December 3, 2011.

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RIPON MP Julian Smith has urged politicians and business leaders to work more closely together to turn around the city’s fortunes.

His comments were made at a meeting of councillors and representatives from business and community organisations held at Fountains Abbey Visitor Centre on Saturday, December 3.

“For a while I have felt that Ripon is not punching anywhere near its weight,” Mr Smith told the 25-strong audience.

“I believe we are not working closely enough together and that is having an impact on the success of Ripon. Unless we get our act together we are not going to benefit from the funding that is available and we will lose out.”

Business leaders at the meeting expressed bewilderment at the fragmented nature of local politics, with three tiers of local government plus other organisations such as GRIP (Greater Ripon Improvement Partnership).

Allan Leech, of Lightwater Valley Theme Park, said: “I find the politics really confused – where’s the centre?”

The issue of whether the city council should appoint a city manager to provide a more co-ordinated approach for Ripon was raised as a possible solution.

Coun Andrew Williams, chairman of Ripon City Council’s Finance and General Purposes committee, said: "I think the city council needs to decide whether it wants to be a deliverer of any services in the city and, if so, the current precept is not capable of delivering that – the current £124,000-a-year wouldn't also fund a city manager.”

The meeting welcomed two guest speakers who implored those present to come up with a solid strategy for the Ripon area.

First to speak was Barry Dodd, chairman of North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

He said: “If this was a business, you would all be bankrupt.

“You need to think a bit bigger about your ambitions and you need a very clear plan on what success looks like – if you know where you want to be you will find it much easier to work together.”

The second speaker was Peter Dodd (no relation), sales and managing director of tourist promotion body Welcome to Yorkshire.

“You need to identify how you attract more people to Ripon and where the gaps in the market are,” he said.

“Any strategy has to hold ideas together and be integrated – it’s no good having a campaign to attract more visitors if, for example, there’s nowhere for them to park.”

Mr Dodd said Ripon should be aiming to increase both visitor numbers and their length of stay in the city.

“In 12 months’ time, you need to have more visitors, a broader appeal and ensure everyone understands what the Ripon ‘offer’ is,” he added.

A further meeting will be held at Easter to measure Ripon’s progress.

lJulian Smith has met the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, to discuss a number of issues. The meeting comes after Mr Smith criticised the Bishop for questioning Government proposals to cap welfare benefit entitlements, as reported in the Gazette on November 25.

Mr Smith said: “I enjoyed our discussion and look forward to continuing to meet with him in the months ahead to share our points of view.”