For whom the bell tolls, Weymouth it tolls for thee


Weymouth

It may seem strange writing about something of a potential death knell tolling over a normally prosperous seaside town, but due to a sudden visitor drop in the peak holiday season, it does seem to me that is the position Weymouth could be facing at the moment.

I did write as early as January 2011 and several times since then of potential problems with the then forthcoming Olympics likely to deter holiday makers from making Weymouth their holiday venue of choice. In the 18 months since then. It does seem that the increasing number of official announcements about what was going to happen to the town during the Olympics was also increasing the deterrent effect to holiday makers during this period. It was not through any mystical crystal ball gazing on my part making it possible to forecast the future but plain common sense. Common sense to understand what the locals were saying. Common sense to understand what would deter holiday makers from coming.

Some hoteliers did not help the situation by apparently refusing to take holiday bookings during the of the Olympic period in the expectation of getting more lucrative corporate bookings. The bookings never materialised and hotel rooms in the peak holiday season now stand as empty as the shameful swathe of empty seats already witnessed at Olympic venues. Some hoteliers have suddenly started offering hotel rooms at greatly reduced rates in an attempt  to attract holiday makers but it is likely to prove a forlorn hope as holiday destinations tend to be booked well in advance.

For people travelling any distance there are only two effective methods of getting to Weymouth, either by car or by train. The advice being given to people visiting the Olympic sailing venue was to come by train and I think everyone was flabbergasted when only one week before the Olympics started, the train operators stated on national television that due to technical reasons, they would not be able to cope with greatly increased numbers of visitors and that people should come by car instead.

Some car parking spaces within a normally busy Weymouth have been reduced with alternative park and ride sites being set up. Charges for car parking at these sites was also set at £10 per day with additional fees for reserving a space. Not only is all this a potential deterrent to both holiday makers and casual visitors alike, but it also led to claims by numbers of people who travelled into Weymouth by car to work that they were facing substantial additional travel costs just to go to work. In what appears to be a desperate attempt to gain back lost holiday makers, the £10 per day fee has suddenly been dropped on certain days but I fear this will prove be too little, to late.

I visited Weymouth the day before the new restrictions came into effect. The beach was crowded and multitudes of people swarmed through the town. By contrast from what I now see on television, apart from the Nothe Park which has large numbers of Olympic spectators, local businesses report a dearth of visitors. News photographs show that even the sea has been screened of from view on parts of the Esplanade by a fence of horrible blue plastic sheeting. Weymouth must be the only seaside town where when strolling along part of the seafront, viewing the sea and vista beyond appears to be forbidden. How on earth anyone hopes to attract visitors who will have seen the same scenes on television is beyond me.

It is true that Central London has also experienced a large drop in visitor numbers coupled with people working from home,  giving Central London a ghost town appearance, but unlike Weymouth, London is a vibrant 24 hour city with excellent transport links well able to recover from temporary setbacks. I would have thought Weymouth’s economy is much more delicately balanced with bucket and spade holiday makers making a significant contribution to the local economy. Weymouth’s big challenged will now be how to attract those regular holiday makers back next year and that could prove a difficult problem once people have tasted elsewhere. Failure to do so particularly during a recession could lead to serious decline in the town.

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Weymouth Harbour

Personally I hope the belated campaign to attract visitors works although I must confess to having doubts as to whether this will have more than a minimal effect. As a seaside town I have something of a soft spot for Weymouth. It is a fantastic holiday town  for families with a wide clean gently sloping sandy beach. Being part of the renown Jurassic Coast it is also a good location to start adventure trips from or fascinating just to stroll around the harbour. Weymouth has quite a good shopping centre too ranging from some wide traffic free streets lined with a mixture of large well known stores and local shops, to a labyrinth of small alleys all crammed full of curiosity type shops just begging to be explored. Dining, whatever ones taste is well catered for with a multitude of food outlets and restaurants.

I suspect once all the razzamatazz of the Olympics has passed it is inevitable the blame game will begin. I would not at all be surprised if the death knell of a few political careers is sounded or even if the political composition of the town drastically changes at the next election.

The Great State Pension Fiasco


 

There is a saying that a week in politics is a long time meaning that often events and circumstances can change so rapidly that it can be difficult to predict longer term trends. The UK still has a relatively new coalition Government busy slashing costs to the bone and then coming back for the bone itself. Trying to predict who is likely to win the next general election which could still be another four years away may seem like an impossible crystal ball gazing task. This coupled with a poor choice of political parties, none of which at the moment appear fit for purpose.

However it would appear that in the last few days, the coalition government has already sown the seeds of its own destruction by announcing the creation of a new two-tier old age state pension system. The new pensions to be introduced in 2015 or 2016 will only apply to those individuals that retire after the introduction of the new scheme. Anyone retiring even 24 hours prior to the introduction of the new scheme will not be eligible. The problem being that new retirees will get about 50% more pension a week that existing pensioners many of who are desperate need now. Apart from saying that existing retirees will not be eligible, no other announcement has been made about their already paltry pensions.

It  is not be difficult to see this will create massive resentment from those already retired and living on state pensions that woefully lag behind most other European countries. With its usual blinkered approach, the Government appears to underestimated the massive voting power of the “Grey-vote”, and it is the grey-vote that is likely to decide the outcome of the next election whenever it may be.

It is more than likely the Government will find itself faced with an ever-increasing dilemma the nearer the next election approaches. It does not take a soothe-sayer to forecast that the political party that promises to extend the new state pension scheme to all will be the party that will win the next election.

The Conservative Party will be in great difficulty promising this as they are the ones proposing the two-tier system. They have already done many U-turns in their less than a year in power, however to do a U-turn on state pensions would be an admission they were completely wrong. The Liberal Party would also be in great difficulty promising the same state pension for all following the University fees debacle. Having made an election pledge which their leader even signed only to break it within a few weeks of coming to power is likely to mean the electorate will never believe any Liberal Party promise again. This only effectively leaves the Labour Party who at the moment have remained silent on equal new state pensions for all.

My guess is none of these blinkered politicians have not yet foreseen anything past their next week in politics and their forthcoming extensive holiday break, but my guess is the penny will soon drop on this election winning promise with the Labour Party soon climbing on the band-wagon.

 

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