Ron Simpson: Hopper project has changed people’s lives

The new Uppingham Hopper bus, provided by Rutland County Council. EMN-150818-094746001

The new Uppingham Hopper bus, provided by Rutland County Council. EMN-150818-094746001

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As what has been an exciting year for Uppingham draws to a close, it is appropriate to take stock of what progress has been made on a number of the issues I have written about in previous columns.

In January Rutland County Council will formally make (adopt) the Uppingham Neighbourhood Plan. After four years of community effort and a legal journey all the way to the Supreme Court, 2016 will see the town begin the development strategy agreed by its community in a resoundingly positive public referendum. Some of the projects within it, described by its External Examiner and government as ‘exciting and innovative’ will then be able to move forward. Not least of these will be the 30m Uppingham Mast, intended to generate broadband and mobile signals for a range of 10 km around Uppingham and the first batch of new housing to be built to the new design standards defined by the plan. This standard includes occupier choice of incoming telecoms infrastructure, a design capable of support homeworking and a lower density of housing to enable properties in keeping with the town’s rural and historic character. For the future, having helped shape the plan, the town’s Neighbourhood and Business Forums will act as its ‘critical friend’, monitoring progress and the decisions of both town and county council in implementing its policies and proposals.

Some time ago I reported on the progress being made in the development of electric cars, the effort being made in Rutland to attract the next generation of electric tourists and my experience as an enthusiastic new owner of a BMW I3. There is only good news to report. After a slow start the cars are starting to appear around the county and a slow but steady trickle of visitors are arriving at our charger equipped hotels. My own car has now done 11,000 miles and is one year old. It has toured England and visited our twin town in France. What used to be a £100 per week fuel bill for a 4X4 has now reduced to around £50 per month for electricity (it is free at UK motorway service stations). Insurance for its first year was under £200 and Road Tax was free. Am I convinced of the merits of electric cars? You bet I am.

The reputation of Uppingham was further enhanced in a number of competitions this year. Superb efforts by volunteers and local businesses and schools resulted in triumphs in the East Midlands in Bloom and the Britain in Bloom Awards. Thanks to the efforts and achievements of local businesses, the town council and the ideas in the emerging Uppingham Town Centre and Business Zones Plan, Uppingham was judged to have one of the top five high streets among small market towns in the UK. The online presence of the town driven by our superb art and antique galleries and Uppingham School, aided by the international viewing profile secured by the Uppingham Webcam at www.uppinghamfirst.co.uk means that I now receive enquiries and messages from far and wide about the manner in which the town has raised its profile and the supportive relationship between community, business, local government and our schools. Ten years of collaborative effort appears to be paying dividends. Government departments have also taken an interest in its progress and are supportive of some of its ideas.

The year is ending with another emerging success story for Uppingham as the six month trial of the Uppingham Hopper reaches its half way mark. After 10 weeks at the time of writing, the Hopper Bus has supported over 1200 free passenger journeys benefiting citizens, public services and businesses alike. This outstanding example of collaboration between local government, local businesses and the voluntary sector has changed some residents’ lives and provided food for thought on what should follow the trial. Praise for the project has come from as far away as Canada and more than one resident has stayed longer on the bus than intended after sampling its community spirit. Particularly humbling has been the regular offer by elderly passengers, many probably on state pensions, to pay towards the cost of the journey if it will help the project move toward permanence. It has reassured the voluntary drivers that their efforts are making a difference and that Uppingham is ending the year on a high note.

Yes, Uppingham has come a long way from the days when it was recognised only for the famous school that bears its name. I wonder what excitement and progress 2016 will bring?