Published: June 3, 2009
Anger over
council's refusal to help recession-hit Burnham shop

The owner of a prominent Burnham-On-Sea shoe shop which is set to shut this week after 25 years of business has been left fuming after the district council said it would not step in and take on the store for community use to prevent it being boarded up. was first to report earlier this year how JPS Footwear, situated on the corner of the High Street and Pier Street, would be closing with the loss of six jobs this Saturday (June 6th), due in part to cripplingly-high business rates.

Director Geoff Shickle, pictured above, explained to this week: "Rather than see the shop boarded up in such a prominent position, we offered the premises to the district council."

"I know money is available under the government's recently-launched Empty Shops Revival Plan for this to happen."

"The shop would then be used as a community facility for, as an example, displaying local art and the like. One local art group has already approached me to confirm they are interested."

But Sedgemoor District Council has turned down the proposal, saying it does not have the resources to do this.

Allison Griffin, Corporate Director of Customers and Communities, said in a reply to Mr Shickle: "Unfortunately at this time the council is not in a position to enter into any form of sponsorship or use of the premises. We currently have a number of properties that are suffering in the same way and it would be wonderful if we had the resources to address the situation."

But Mr Shickle, who is also Chairman of Burnham's Chamber of Trade, said: "Authorities in other parts of the country are acting positively to utilise such premises for uses of benefit to the community."

"It has taken almost two months since I first raised this issue to obtain this response and it is clear to me that SDC, not content with destroying most of Bridgwater shopping area and almost the whole of Highbridge, is now prepared to let Burnham-On-Sea die on its feet."

"The council has never, since inception - and I served on the council between 1976 and 1979 - understood the importance of tourism in coastal towns and has kept their head in the sand with regard to investment and encouragement of both shopping facilities and attractions to visitors." contacted Duncan McGinty, Leader of Sedgemoor District Council, (pictured right) to get a fuller explanation of the council's position.

He told us: "Sedgemoor District Council supports businesses across the district and fully endorses the idea behind the Empty Shops Revival Plan."

"Despite the announcement on 14th April from the Government on the Empty Shops Revival Plan to which Mr Shickle refers, we are still waiting for the nuts and bolts detail of this scheme. Unfortunately, until the scheme is made clear and the monies promised flow down, we are unable to take any pro-active action on this at present."

"There are a number of properties in towns across the district which are suffering in the same way and whilst it would be an ideal solution to bring these back into commercial or community use, we have to face the reality of the overall economic climate at present."

"We work actively with landlords and potential occupiers to encourage full use and we will continue this 'behind the scenes' work."

Mr Shickle is also the owner of Shickle Shoes, also in Burnham High Street, which continues to thrive and is unaffected by the closure of JPS.

JPS will join a growing list of firms in Burnham that have closed in recent months, including French's cafe in College Street, clothing store Dragonsurf in the High Street, and the Burnham photography shop in February.

It comes just a day after reported how one newsagent in Highbridge has been boarded up after being repossessed.

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