View from the constituency by John Glen MP and City Minister (February 26, 2019)
THE ANNIVERSARY of the Novichock attack in Salisbury is looming.
Many people’s minds are on how to appropriately mark the occasion, doing justice to the suffering caused to the victims and to the lasting consequences of the shockwave it sent through the local economy – particularly our precious retail and tourism sectors.
I have been asked to give media interviews reflecting on the effects of the past year on Salisbury’s psyche. But I find my mind preoccupied less by thoughts of the recent past and more by the opportunities we have to transform Salisbury’s future for the better.
There is a great deal of goodwill towards this city. Colleagues in government often ask me what they can do to help Salisbury and I do not want our request to be for reparation for what has gone before – in effect, stagnation – to restore things to how they were.
Rather, I want us to seize the moment and set our sights on things that build a more vibrant, resilient and diverse economy for the future.
People constantly complain to me that Salisbury is becoming a retirement city. I firmly believe we should therefore be asking primarily for things that are lacking in the city at the moment – particularly facilities that will benefit the younger generation.
The three significant opportunities for Salisbury on the horizon at the moment are: first, our bid into the Government’s High Streets Fund – a pot of money (£675m) to support local projects that revive and renew existing retail centres; second, we are in the early days of a consultation leading to the presentation of a Cultural Strategy for Salisbury.
The city has a strong affinity for the arts and, during my tenure as the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, I saw time and time again the boost communities receive from focused, community-centred enrichment of their arts facilities.
This activity poses no threat to any existing groups or institutions. I want the strategy to value and benefit all of the activities already here, but also to think about how we can build on our strengths to make Salisbury an even better place to live and work – particularly for young, creative people.
The last element under consideration is the phased redevelopment of The Maltings. I regret the temporary relocation of the library was made known without being put in its wider context, but mistakes in the ommunication strategy pursued by Wiltshire Council should not obscure the fact that we are talking about major new investment in Salisbury which should be welcomed and celebrated.
I realise that, not having the whole plan locked down at the start breeds scepticism, but I do not want to turn away much needed investment in
an under-appreciated part of Salisbury just because we lack confidence in what the scheme could become.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a large amount of misinformation and gossip circulating about the proposals. The library is not being closed or
signifi cantly downgraded. It will be moving to a temporary location in a new, modern building, with the long-term aim of being one of the centrepieces of a new cultural quarter near the Playhouse.
Again, my aspiration is not just to see it restored to the equivalent of what we have now. I want Salisbury to have one of the best libraries in the country – not just bustling and relevant, but fi t for the future.
All of these projects affect each other, and my priority is not just to advance them individually but also to connect different groups of people, so they can complement each other and eventually fit together into a coherent whole.
After the terrible events of a year ago, surely we need to be doing everything possible to send out the message that Salisbury is open for business, investment and innovation.
Our time is now: react with cynicism and delay and it may be decades before the chance comes around again.
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