A COMMUNITY leader has added his voice to the concern over the potential closure of a visitor centre.
Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) is considering closing its flagship centre in Princetown to help plug a hole in its budget.
This worries Dartmoor Forest Parish Council chairman Cllr Gregg Manning who says it will damage the village economy because the centre attracts 80,000 visitors a year.
He has written to the DNPA chief executive Dr Kevin Bishop and Sir Geoffrey Cox, MP for Torridge and West Devon expressing his concern and suggesting measures to avoid the closure.
Cllr Manning said: ‘Closing the visitor centre would be a huge blow to the village, we need even more visitors than ever while inflation is restricting people’s spending. We have the new whiskey distillery opening next year, which should be on the coach tours schedules, but without the draw of the visitor centre as well, the tours might not come at all.
‘There’s no way we can make up for the loss of most of those visitors that come to the visitor centre. It could be disastrous for the village and lead to the closure of the few businesses we have.’
He said the whiskey distillery’s business plan was modelled partly on these visitor figures, so they might have to scale back their ambitions and that could have a cascade affect on all businesses: ‘And of course we have cafes, the prison museum, charity shop and outdoor shop, which all rely on current visitors to trade and thrive.
‘I don’t feel very optimistic about the future because coach tours have already reduced significantly over the past few years.’
Cllr Manning has suggested to Mr Bishop that he moves his HQ from Parke to Princetown, to save money and DNPA jobs and support the Princetown economy. He has also asked for confirmation all the space in the visitor centre is being fully used and if there is space for new tenants.
He has asked the DNPA if the budget problems could have been planned for: ‘Surely this did not come out of the blue for the authority, like it did for us?’
The Rev Andrew Thomas, Rector of the West Dartmoor Mission Community said: ‘The parochial church council (PCC) is very happy to work with this new working party within the legal realms and constraints that are in force. As to the future, the PCC will happily consider donating a contribution to the working party’s finances. However this was from a limited legacy fund used for maintenance and is shrinking. Once this fund ends, the subject of the long term maintenance and upkeep of the churchyard will arise again.’
Dr Bishop is consulting with staff on the issue of redundancies which will address a £500,000 budget deficit. Closing the centre, ‘was not taken lightly’ but he saw ‘no alternatives’. Cuts would be made with a ‘heavy heart’. He understood the‘profound impact on staff’.