Is there any action you’d like to see taken to boost business in North Somerset?
“If you want Weston-super-Mare to tick you have to sort out junction 21. This would attract inward investment and encourage growing businesses to stay in the area.
What I’ve been proposing for a while is a Weston by-pass which utilises Wolvershill Bridge and joins up with the A370 as this would reduce the traffic pressure by up to 25% and give an alternative entry and exit into the town. The land surrounding this could also be developed and a new distribution centre built for example, to create thousands of jobs.”
Are we doing enough as a region to attract businesses and promote the area?
“It pains me to say it but North Somerset Council needs to look across to Sedgemoor Council where they have full employment, warehouse and distribution jobs, posh jobs, and agricultural jobs, service jobs- the whole lot.
We lost the big Morrison’s development to Sedgemoor District Council because our representatives in North Somerset Council such as Cllr Nigel Ashton (leader of North Somerset Council) and Cllr Elfan Ap Rees seem to have a prejudice against the town.
They need to roll out of the red carpet and be a bit more humble in order to attract inward investment. Instead of putting out all the talk about the area having lots of positive developments, which is just cosmetic rubbish.”
How much potential does North Somerset have?
“Let’s take Weston again. Nobody believes in Weston-super-Mare. We’ve got such potential here but Cllr Nigel Ashton only seems to be interested in Portishead. There could be no better place in the country; we could be the gateway to the South West but there is no direction or action taken from the powers that be.
Frankly, the way our area has been managed by the Council is a total disgrace and the people of this area deserve much better. It’s really frustrating to see jobs going out of Weston and North Somerset, 400 jobs have recently gone to Clevedon because of political decisions and something needs to be done.
This is why myself and other business men and women have set up Weston First, which is a group of prominent business leaders who want to make a difference in the town.”
What one thing would you like to see change in North Somerset?
“Not demolishing the Tropicana would be a good start to restoring confidence in the town as it’s something the people of Weston want – an open air pool that would bring jobs into the town and give it some pride.
I’m heading up Trop(WSM) Ltd which is a business consortium opposing the demolition of the Tropicana and the restoration of an open air swimming pool, of which a third would be covered, and surrounded by car parking facilities.
It would be a community hub which would also be surrounded by six to ten shops and would have an infrastructure that is suited to disabled people and people with spinal injuries.
It’s just such a shame that the powers that be have refused constantly to speak to us throughout the whole process and have even tried to discredit my business and the plans we’ve put in place.”
Do you feel the Tropicana is the focus of too much attention?
“Well it wouldn’t be if the Council worked with us instead of against us and actually got round the table and discussed the plans; instead of getting the consultants DTZ to rubbish the plans and create a process which everybody in the town is against.
The Town Council is behind it, John Penrose MP is behind it, Labour and Lib Dems are behind it, many fellow Conservatives are behind it but there is a determination to knock down this old building.”
Nationally, what are your views on the current government?
“They’ve made a bit of sham of things to be honest and to keep u-turning doesn’t do them any good. They need to get on the ground and see what is really going on. They should have left some of Labour’s policies alone as well.
Just because Labour did something it doesn’t mean you have to get rid of it just because you’re Conservative. Take planning for example; Labour realised the need for building houses that people can afford because we have a population that is potentially going to hit 70 Million.
This year has been the worst year for building houses since the war began, and it’s a conscious decision. Obviously 100 per cent mortgages and 110% equity packages are unsustainable but we should be building houses and kick-starting the construction sector.”
What would you like to see government doing differently?
“We should be taking people out of local government control and putting them into jobs in the private sector that make money. This is vital to achieving a private sector led recovery.
I would also like to see labour legislation laws relaxed because you really do have to take a deep breath, as an employer, before you take somebody on.
We should be re-training people as well, because it used to be that you had a job for life but now there is so much uncertainty and when people lose their job they’re left on the scrapheap.
We should be re-skilling people and spending money on apprenticeships and getting back to being a country that actually makes things.”
Do the bankers deserve the stick they’re getting?
“Bob Diamond and Sir Fred Goodwin should be doing porridge for their role in bringing down the economy and the recent dodgy dealings that they have been exposed for.
Some of the tricks these guys are playing are unbelievable really – they’re doing things like forcing businesses to convert overdrafts into loans. At a time when firms need support from the banks; all they’re doing is hoarding our money and improving their balance sheets.”
Is the recession as bad as the media portrays?
“Yes it’s been very hard at times and you can definitely feel the shift. For example Around 2007/2008, when we were beginning to invest heavily in the JCT 24* development life did become quite hard. Previously the banks couldn’t wait to throw money at you and suddenly they closed up and viable business plans became tougher to implement.”
* The JCT 24 development houses one of the largest livestock markets in the country, a conference centre, restaurant and other amenities.
Back to local issues, are you in favour of the Severn Barrage?
“Yes I would support it. It would create jobs and be very good for the town but I’m not sure it will happen any time soon.”
An inspiring figure from history you’d take out for a pint?
“Winston Churchill – he had his quirks but he did a lot of good for this country.”
* Please note – all views expressed are those of the interviewee and do no reflect or represent the views of the Weston & North Somerset Echo – which is an independent online business news portal.
Derek Mead is the owner of the Mead Group, which contains Mead Realisations Ltd, Puxton Park and JCT 24.