Council cost-cutting may result in centre closure
TIVERTON Tourist Information Centre faces closure due to Mid Devon District Council cost-cutting.
The Phoenix Lane facility is visited by 100,000 people every year and boosts the area's tourism economy.
But the service could close its doors as early as May as the authority seeks to cut the £4,000 financial subsidy it provides.
The centre was already facing a 33 per cent reduction in the funding it receives from the council but now it is feared the plug could be pulled completely because the authority says it has to get more from its assets in the current economic climate.
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Phil Spencer, who is part of the management committee set up to support the day-to-day management of the centre, which employs four staff, said the service would have little choice but to close if the council chooses to make the service pay for itself.
He said the centre currently makes an income from selling maps and books about the area and from commissions on tickets sales for theatre and concerts.
There has been a tourist information service in Tiverton for many years. It grew from humble beginnings in a portable cabin in Phoenix Lane and moved into the building it currently occupies in the mid-1990s. Mr Spencer said the facility was built without any capital funding from the district council.
Up to now, the council has charged the service a peppercorn rent as well as excluded it from business rates on the grounds that it was providing a community service.
Mr Spencer said the council had previously talked about the possibility of relocating the service, but he said the locations which were suggested would result in a "massive reduction in footfall" and were likely to lead to a "much reduced service" to visitors. "Where we are is the perfect place to be," he said.
The centre also receives a grant of £2,000 from Tiverton Town Council with the grant from the district council working out a cost of 4p per visitor. "That's very little money to help put Tiverton on the map as a place to visit," said Mr Spencer.
He said even if the centre was forced to close they would be losing years of experience and local knowledge.
Cllr Des Hannon, who represents Tiverton East on Devon County Council, said the uncertainty over the centre's future was concerning and he described the timing as "bonkers."
He said: "The Grand Western Canal Visitor Centre is due to officially open next month. That's timed carefully to get the tourist season off to a flying start. If Mid Devon chooses to close its tourist information centre at the same time, just when tourists are starting to arrive, that's perverse. I understand they are short of cash, but this decision at this time seems simply short on common sense."
He urged the council to "stop, think and talk to their partners in business" and to the county council before taking any decision which could condemn the centre to closure.
Phil Brind, from Tiverton Canal Company who chaired a meting of local tourism attractions where the issue was discussed, said: "This is a big decision which could have a major knock-on effect for Tiverton and I think it should be discussed by the full council. A quick decision on this is not good enough."
A report on the future of the service will be presented to a council committee.
A council spokesperson said: "Discussions are taking place with the centre in respect of future arrangements. The council is unable to provide any information until our discussions have concluded."