'Unless action is taken, Settle will become a dormitory town, with a dwindling retail/commercial sector, an ageing population and as a consequence, continued rising house prices.' This is one of the downsides of a report prepared for Settle & District Chamber of Trade by two chamber members, Erskine Corporation Ltd and John Christopher Associates Ltd.
However, with the will and involvement of all interested parties, the report envisages the creation of a unique business community in Settle, encouraging high-tech and creative businesses to move to the area. The report proposes greatly improved facilities, a business centre, broadband internet connection, a shared distribution centre and the opening of other channels of trade, such as mail order/internet, together with incubator and live/work units. The brand, planned to encompass Settle & the Three Peaks, would represent the ethos of the area and a comprehensive marketing plan would raise Settle's profile, attracting new and stimulating existing businesses and encouraging 'high end' tourism.
The report was discussed last week in an open meeting, organised by the Chamber of Trade and attended by interested parties from all parts of the Settle community. Attendees included local councillors Beth Graham and David Heather, together with senior representatives of Yorkshire Forward, Business Link and North Yorkshire County Council. Key local educational establishments, including Settle High School, Settle Community College, Giggleswick School and Craven College also attended the event, held at the Craven College Building.
"The Chamber of Trade is now a recognised part of the community," said Tony Price, Chamber chairman, outlining the background to the presentation. "Though we are seen as a business organisation, those businesses are owned by local people, therefore we are no longer just a town centre group." In the last six months, membership of the Chamber had grown by 120%, he said, and during the recent Foot & Mouth outbreak, they worked tirelessly as part of the Craven District Task Force, liaising with key national figures such as Lord Haskins, Margaret Beckett and Alan Michaels.
Following the devastation caused by Foot & Mouth, the Chamber began to actively explore ways of attracting new businesses to the area. Chamber members Chris Fowler of retail and logistics experts John Christopher Associates and Simon Campbell of brand and communication specialists Erskine Corporation, along with the Chamber's newly appointed business development officer Steve Finch, formed a Business Development Team.
The resulting Erskine proposal points out that in 1927, Settle had a thriving economy and a healthy town centre, with flourishing agriculture and industry. By the year 2000 though, the town had seen a decline in agriculture which had a knock-on effect for local enterprises, where many businesses had become only second incomes. The town's traders had become de-motivated and hence so was the Chamber of Trade. Foot & Mouth though and Settle's reaction to it has revealed that there is a mood for change, evidenced not just by the dramatic rise in Chamber membership but by other factors. The recent Rural Road-Show for example, sponsored by Yorkshire Forward, boasted a greater attendance in Settle than all the other road-shows combined - at Thirsk, Todmorden and Hawes.
Erskine's presentation outlined the changes in UK lifestyle, emphasising travel difficulties, the growing trend away from city centre working, improvements in technology and the increased costs of housing, particularly in the South and South East. All of these are seen as a major opportunity for Settle to encourage a targeted section of these individuals to move into the area bringing with them their wealth and businesses. For the general population of Settle and the Three Peaks, the report suggests, existing residents will benefit from the increased and improved facilities in the area. The area will enjoy varied and high quality employment. Young people will return from University to live, work or start a business in the area whilst those leaving school at 18 will be able to pursue a career in the town and use further education to enhance their skills.
The project will involve detailed consultation with all interested business parties to determine their objectives and ensure that environmental and community issues are addressed where they interact with the business community. Customers will need to be identified by taking a representative sample of the accommodation businesses, retail establishments, restaurants and cafes, service providers and leisure facilities.
Settle's unique selling points as seen by the town's 'customers' will also need to be identified, with the focus on the environment, services, accessibility and travel options, the townsfolk and the culture. The core Erskine team propose using Yorkshire-based individuals, groups and companies to create the whole package, including designing/creating the workspaces, to the marketing and development of the area's 'brand' to attract large and small businesses.
The open question and answer session at the end of the presentation was lively and generally very positive. There was a strong consensus that all interested parties needed to be involved in the next stage and that the process had to be open and transparent. Tony Price agreed "The Chamber of Trade is merely the catalyst for this exciting plan for Settle. It will not succeed unless we integrate and unite all the elements and interested parties in the area to a common goal. There is however one certainty. The community as a whole will benefit from the influx of new business and additional wealth that will be created."
The next stage is for the marketing plan to go out to tender and for funding to be obtained to conduct a research exercise to establish the community's reaction to the plan.
For further information contact Martin Higham on 01729 822071, Email email@example.com, Web www.settle.org.uk