After two years the results of a public opinion survey into the future of Helston have finally been revealed – with benches and bus shelters top on the list of priorities.
It was back in August 2011 that people in the town were asked to fill in a town plan questionnaire, answering questions about housing, parks and other community facilities, as well as the environment.
There were also questions aimed directly at people over the age of 60 and between the ages of ten and 17.
After pressure from new town councillors a working party was set up last month to summarise the results.
The group, led by councillor Martine Knight, has now stated in a report that despite “some misgivings” about the structure of the original questionnaire, the working party was “firmly of the view that residents have the right to know the outcome of the survey”.
This has led to them putting forward three proposals, the first of which is to buy a number of benches for the town centre and the outlying areas, out of section 106 money given by Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
Adequate seating in the town was deemed to be important for people over the age of 60 and the working party believed this was an area the council could “move swiftly on,” with a short survey helping to identify suitable locations.
Members stated in the report: “It was further felt that worries about potential vandalism and inappropriate use of seating were negative and that the benefit to the many should not be delayed by concerns about the few.”
The working party asked the council to apply “immediately” for planning permission, where necessary, for the benches and also two bus shelters for Coinagehall Street.
The majority of comments in the ‘economy and transport’ section of the public questionnaire focussed on parking and bus shelters. Past bus shelter projects for Coinagehall Street have faced problems with finding a design suitable for a conservation area, but the working party believed these were “not insurmountable” and asked the council to progress the matter “at the earlier opportunity.”
Members also wanted town clerk Chris Dawson to arrange a meeting between the working party and Terry Grove-White of Cornwall Council about the possibility of a neighbourhood plan or town plan rather than a Cornwall Council Local Development Plan.
Reporting back to the full council last Thursday, Mrs Knight urged her fellow members to now take action.
She said: “The past is the past. We’re looking at everything with fresh eyes.
“The working party feels very strongly that it is vital our council is seen as a ‘can do’ council, rather than a ‘can’t do’ one. Sometimes delay is inevitable. However it is never justifiable as bureaucracy or an unwillingness to make things happen.”
However, councillors were told that by law they were unable to make any decisions on the recommendation that night, as the report had not been given three days’ public notice.
The points raised will go forward to the council’s amenities committee, which is due to meet tomorrow (Thursday) and has delegated authority to spend its £600 budget, with a further £2,030 in council reserves for public seats.
It can also recommend that part of the original section 106 money is spent on public seats.
However, Mr Dawson said there was no budget set aside anywhere at this moment for bus shelters.
He added that one of the conditions of receiving the 106 money into council control was that the council had to consult with all the town centre stakeholders.
It was waiting for a regeneration officer to be in place – to replace the town centre manager post – and a full public consultation to be carried out before any money was spent.
Shortlisting for the regeneration officer is due to take place next Tuesday, with interviews held the following week.
Just under half – 47 per cent – of the comments related to the need for more affordable housing while 12 per cent wanted more council/social housing.
A total of 10.6 per cent felt there was too much new-build already, particularly to the east of the town, which was not felt to be in-keeping with the town, while 8.7 per cent were concerned that there was insufficient infrastructure to support the developments already built.
The working party stressed housing was not within its remit, but that of Cornwall Council, although the issues will be fed into Helston Town Framework.
Recreation, leisure and healthy lifestyles
A large 82.9 per cent felt recreation was “very important,” “important” or “somewhat important,” with parks and open spaces most frequently used. The biggest obstacles preventing people using the parks were the lack of adequate toilets and parking.
Lots of people asked for more walking, cycling, nature, jogging and equestrian trails, while the issue of somewhere for teenagers to go was also highlighted.
Other subjects raised included outdoor performance areas and the condition of Coronation Lake. The biggest point raised was the lack/condition/maintenance of play and exercise equipment.
The working party found there were adequate toilets in parks apart from at the King George V Playing Fields, while the Furry Youth Cafe had opened since the survey.
A proposed teen shelter would also help. Granting funding was now in place for play equipment in Carey Park and almost finalised for Bulwark Road, while the National Trust was providing more accessible trails around Loe Bar.
There was a strong desire to have good community facilities and upgrade existing facilities, which publicity on what is available also deemed very important.
The matter of the tourist information centre was again highlighted. The working party found that while the council’s long term plan was likely to include looking for grant funding for a new community centre, in the current economic climate this was unlikely to be possible in the short to medium term. However, it was felt upgrading existing facilities, to offer more services to all residents, would be something to take forward.
The council will look into whether offers by two businesses to host a tourist information centre at no cost to the town – one offer made during the survey and another since then – are still valid.
Environment and heritage
Dog fouling and lack of bins for dog mess were raised, as was the appearance of the entrances to the town, the whitewashed walls and kennels. There were requests for more allotments.
The working party stressed that dog mess could be put in any public bin, not just a designated one, and since the survey town warden Craig Bowcutt can now issue penalties for dog fouling and litter picking.
The Helston Business Improvement Partnership aesthetics group was also working on tidying the town and looking at better signs. The efforts of John Head and Rotarians had vastly improved the whitewashed walls.
The allotments request was a surprise, as the ones already available were not fully taken up; the current situation at Penventon Hill would be looked into and publicised.
Economy and transport
The majority of comments focussed on parking and bus services, with the need for improvement of the Helston to Redruth road highlighted to improve safety and economic growth.
It was felt by 75 per cent that Helston Business Park should be made a key priority.
The working party found there were no suggestions over how income from the car parks might be replaced if charges were eliminated or reduced; ultimately it was Cornwall Council’s responsibility and comments have been passed on.
Older people over 60 years
Issues highlighted included local health facilities and transport, with adequate toilets – particularly for the disabled – deemed essential.
While healthcare is outside the town council’s remit, the working party will pass the comments on.
With regards to toilets, recent moves by the council, led by Gillian Geer, would ensure Helston was no worse off and there would be a toilet with disabled access at either end of the town.
Young people aged ten to 17
There was a relatively small response to this and the town council will continue to work with schools, colleges and youth groups.