City wakes up to image threat

PUBLISHED: 11:27 26 July 2007 | UPDATED: 12:39 04 May 2010

ELY used to be a sleepy market town in the heart of the Fens, but more recently it is recognisable as a vibrant city where the demand for housing often outstrips supply and big businesses want their market share. Companies, who would have once looked to C

ELY used to be a sleepy market town in the heart of the Fens, but more recently it is recognisable as a vibrant city where the demand for housing often outstrips supply and big businesses want their market share.

Companies, who would have once looked to Cambridge to locate their staff, now see Ely as a strong contender.

But this historic city with its magnificent cathedral and pretty waterfront is in danger of having its image tarnished by boy racers and travellers.

Business people are losing patience and one company is already pulling out because "enough is enough".

Just last week travellers brought chaos to the high-tech Cambridgeshire Business Park, which had already battled with boy racers screaming round its car park.

East Cambridgeshire District Council issued a 48-hour eviction notice four days after their arrival and police officers increased patrols but said, as criminal damage on the site had not been witnessed, they were powerless to act.

Just as they were preparing to move out on Thursday morning, three more traveller caravans arrived, setting up home on the other side of the business park in the car park of Melrose Press.

Staff were determined not to be intimidated by them and parked their cars in between the caravans.

Now the district council, worried about the city's reputation, has appointed Ely mayor Cllr Ron Bradney, as an economic champion to restore confidence and work with businesses to solve the problems.

One of the first tasks for Cllr Bradney, who represents Ely North on the district council, will be to meet business representatives on the Cambridgeshire Business Park in a bid to solve the problems.

As owner of the city's Atrium gym he has a good relationship with traders and has a vested interest in ensuring Ely keeps its up-and-coming image intact.

"I will be trying to come up with some ideas of how to improve security," he said. "The Lancaster Way Business Park has 24-hour security and that could be the answer. Perhaps security could be shared with other business parks.

"It's about how we deal with it now and how we deal with it in the future. Bad news happens but it has to be solved.

"People could boycott Ely. Businesses could lose customers and my job is to get it sorted out. I will be troubleshooting and encouraging people to come here.

"The job itself is a good one - to reach out and let people know we welcome them."

In the long-term, Cllr Bradney believes the Government needs to change the laws covering travellers and he plans to raise the issue with South East Cambridgeshire MP Jim Paice.

"When they go onto private property it is more often than not seen as someone else's problem," added Cllr Bradney. "They have the right to roam but this is ridiculous. It's about their human rights - but what about the landowner's rights?"

Mr Paice claims the police and council should be working faster to tackle problems. He said: "There has always been a dispute between local authorities and government as to how much power they have to deal with this. I am quite certain there is a lot of room for improvement in law and I have tried to get changes myself."

The Government rejected Mr Paice's call for a law making it illegal to trespass with a vehicle, which is in force in Ireland.

"I would argue that if the Government had made trespass with a vehicle a criminal offence it would have resolved the problem," he said.

"If we want Ely to be an attractive place to do business then we have to encourage more people to stay in Ely to work rather than going outside the city."

He added that the council and police need to move much more swiftly when problems arise.

"The police have more powers under the Public Order Act if they wish to use them," he said. "They have powers to move people on. The police need to do more.

"They have got to get robust in terms of making sure there is no stealing or anti social behaviour."

Leading estate agents, Cheffins, reports there is a great demand for freehold property for businesses in Ely.

Companies view the 24-hour security at Lancaster Way as a big bonus, said commercial property partner Philip Woolner.

"What you don't want is lots of trouble which could tarnish the city's image," said Mr Woolner. "Positive action has to be taken. You can't just let things be.

"Ely is a very, very vibrant commercial centre.

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