08:40 Friday 13th December 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[P]AUL STAINTON: Back in March Waterbeach Barracks officially closed, marking the end of an era. The base in the South Cambridgeshire village was running for over seventy years, but that ended with Government cuts. Since then, local businesses have been suffering. Well our reporter Johnny Dee is in the village this morning, finding out how life has changed in Waterbeach.
JOHN DEVINE: Yes, I’ve been in the village of Waterbeach since about seven o’clock this morning. I’ve moved along now to the cosy surroundings of the Brewery Tap public house, which is right opposite where the Barracks used to sit. Now I actually managed to speak to three ladies at the bus stop, waiting to go on their daily commute into Cambridge earlier today.
PUBLIC ONE: It’s got a lot quieter. There are far fewer people around during the week. The school’s got fewer children. Some of the youth organisations are suffering, because the kids aren’t there. They’ve all moved off the Barracks.
PUBLIC TWO: I’ve been living here for a very very long time. The village has gone quieter, and as the lady said, businesses are suffering immensely. And we are hoping that we will get more people here so the businesses can start doing better.
JOHN DEVINE: Of course you are hoping to have houses on the site of Waterbeach Barracks.
PUBLIC TWO: Yes there are (plans).
JOHN DEVINE: But it’s going to take time though.
PUBLIC ONE: It will take time. Like everything else in life, it does take time. But we are hoping, aren’t we?
PUBLIC ONE: A lot of people think it’s going to ruin .. there are too many coming, and it’s going to completely swamp the village. So it’s a very controversial subject.
JOHN DEVINE: It’s a bit of a double-edged sword then really, isn’t it?
PUBLIC ONE: It is. Yes.
JOHN DEVINE: One one hand you want the people, but on the other hand you don’t want too many. Is that what you’re saying?
PUBLIC ONE: Yes I think so. I think the size of the planned development is too large. But I think we do need some development up there. We need people. We need more numbers.
PUBLIC THREE: That’s great if they get people in quite soon. And also if the facilities in the village can adapt or cope with that, as even the doctors, we can’t get in an appointment for a month at the moment. What’s going to happen when these people all come in?
JOHN DEVINE: I’ve got with me now councillor James Hockney. Now how do you plan to revive Waterbeach James?
JAMES HOCKNEY: Well the community’s been through a very tough time with the Barracks closure, and that’s why we’ve been ramping up the “Shop Local” page. It’s actually got a Facebook. We’ve got over 1,000 people visiting that page. And that’s a free way for businesses to promote themselves. We’ve also been holding two multi-agency meetings about all the empty Barracks properties, over 250 properties. And now we’re seeing those properties actually starting to be occupied. Because at the end of the day, there’s nothing like those people being in those homes, and spending in our economies. So those 250 properties, getting them occupied, that’s really going to boost our economy. And most recently we’ve been fighting for our economy by having a Business Summit, bringing local businesses together with business support organisations, and also South Cambs District Council officers, at South Cambs, to talk about how we move our economy forward. And from that I’m absolutely delighted that South Cambs are going to make us a pilot for their Rural Economic Strategy, which means they’re going to be giving us resource help and support in terms of working up a strategy to help our economy forward.
JOHNNY DEE: I’ve spoken to a few local shopkeepers, who said to me surely the easy thing to do is cut the business rates. Is that possible?
JAMES HOCKNEY: The one thing South Cambs does do is hardship rate relief. So any local shop can apply for that. One of the other things that came out of the Business Summit was that shops should be contacting the Valuation Office to say the Barracks is closed, it’s impacting our business. We should actually be getting lower rates. I’ve emailed all the local businesses to say that they can look at that. And there’s a dedicated South Cambs District Council officer that can help them as well. So if they’ve got any questions, by all means come to me and I can help them out.
JOHNNY DEE: There are actually people living on the Barracks now in quarters previously occupied by personnel?
JAMES HOCKNEY: We’re starting to see these 250 properties starting to be gradually sold off, being rented off, and being occupied. And I’ve already had businesses saying that they’re starting to see those people come through their doors. And that’s great news. We need more people in our community. We need more people visiting our community. because we have been through a tough time. But I really do think, with the Shop Local campaign ramping up, South Cambs District Council starting to put in resource, help and support, I really do think we can look to 2014 with a sense of optimism that we can get through this challenging time.
PAUL STAINTON: That’s Johnny Dee in Waterbeach this morning with councillor James Hockney and something of a rejuvenation occurring there, which is good news to hear. Absolutely brilliant.