Calls have been made for Shropshire Council to address a “deficit” of cultural facilities in Oswestry.
The authority’s cabinet signed off a new cultural strategy at a meeting on Wednesday, setting out its ambitions for the county’s cultural sector over the next 10 years.
The document, ‘Vibrant Shropshire: Independent by Nature’, is aimed at getting more locals and visitors exploring and enjoying the attractions, and leisure facilities Shropshire’s has to offer.
But Councillor Duncan Kerr, who represents Oswestry South, said the new strategy failed to acknowledge a disparity between different areas of the county, and called on cabinet members to defer adopting it until this had been looked at.
Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Kerr said: “According to the evidence base Shropshire Council invests some £10.6 million into cultural services.
“The same document goes on to say that the largest proportion of this is spent on theatres and public entertainment – £4.8m – the main centres being Theatre Severn and the Old Market Hall in Shrewsbury, and the Assembly Rooms in Ludlow.
“The investment into these facilities has been very considerable with £3.5m just spent on the latter.
“The good news is that the council operates these centres at a profit which is a credit to everyone involved.
“The bad news is that none of these facilities are available to the people of Oswestry, the second largest town in the county.
“Neither does Oswestry, nor indeed north Shropshire, contain any of the six museums operated by Shropshire Council.”
Cllr Kerr said investment in Oswestry’s cultural scene could help combat high levels of deprivation in some areas of the town, with the government having recognised that “investing in culture can be a great catalyst for economic and social renewal”.
He said the development of the emerging Oswestry Masterplan provided the “perfect opportunity” to address the imbalance, but “to date there has been no evidence that Shropshire Council is prepared to make a significant investment in the cultural assets of Oswestry”.
Cllr Kerr said: “The Innovation Park is welcome, but without accompanying investment in the cultural life of the town we will not secure the economic regeneration that the town needs.
“So rather than miss this opportunity to level up services across the county, I am asking you to defer approval of this strategy to provide time to work with the town council and Oswestry BID through the Future Oswestry Group (FOG), and for Shropshire Council to commit to a levelling up agenda to provide the injection of resources into the cultural life of Oswestry that will go some way to rectifying years of underfunding when compared to the other major settlements of Shropshire.”
Councillor Cecilia Motley, portfolio holder for culture, said the strategy had been developed with input from stakeholders, had been through an extensive public consultation, and would be further developed and delivered by an independent cultural partnership.
Cllr Motley said it was important not to delay the adoption of the strategy or the council could risk missing out on grants for cultural projects.
She said: “Major funding organisations, such as Arts Council England and the National Lottery, had raised concerns in the past about the lack of strategic direction for the cultural sector in Shropshire and had called for a partnership approach to clarify priorities for the county.
“The cultural strategy now addresses this and evidences the need for further investment in cultural activities and venues, which it is intended will help secure external funding for Oswestry amongst other places, in a field which is becoming increasingly competitive.”
Cllr Motley said the new partnership would represent the whole of the county and would develop an “action plan” for implementation of the strategy, working with town councils and other stakeholders.
Cabinet unanimously voted to adopt the cultural strategy.