Barrie Grunewald: The economy is moving on up

Council leader Barrie Grunewald (right) with Paul Hubball from Orbit Developments
Council leader Barrie Grunewald (right) with Paul Hubball from Orbit Developments
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It’s been a great few weeks in terms of getting the local economy moving up a gear.

Most people will know that the site of the former St Thomas flats site on Linkway West has been derelict for some time.

But following on from the announcement about the Parkside site the other week, I’m delighted to be able to confirm that this piece of land – known as Westpoint – is about to become an exciting addition to the town centre leisure and retail offer.

As well as an Aldi supermarket, we’ll have a new bowling alley, café and restaurants on the site, along with parking for up to 230 cars.

More importantly though, we estimate the project will create around 280 valuable jobs for the people of St Helens.

That side of the town centre will become a bit of a leisure hotspot, with the new arrivals just over the road from the existing cinema, bars and restaurants – and linked by a new Puffin road crossing.

We know this site has been a bit of an eyesore for a few years now, but it’s not been though lack of effort on the council’s part. Potential developers have come and gone, but this time it’s all signed and sealed – and we look forward to seeing work start next month.

The Westpoint development proves that we’ve got a real ‘can-do’ attitude when it comes to strengthening the local economy.

Yet while we’re always keen to welcome new enterprise, it’s also vital that we look after the businesses that are already here.

So we were concerned to hear about the potential for local firms to get taken for a ride by unscrupulous companies offering to secure refunds on business rates

While many legitimate companies specialise in appealing against business rate valuations, some can be reluctant to spell out their terms and conditions when cold calling or emailing potential clients. In some cases these could involve an upfront fee.

It’s worth remembering however, that anyone with a business can appeal against their rateable value – using the Valuation Office Agency website (www.voa.gov.uk) And it’s completely free.

So if you think your rateable value is wrong, the best bet is to contact your local VOA office and say why. The VOA will compare your rateable value with similar properties in the area and consider any other issues you’ve mentioned when they carry out a check. If you don’t agree with the outcome, you can also appeal.

g WE know we’ve got work to do when it comes to the performance of our secondary schools and, along with the local economy, this is one of my top priorities.

But there are encouraging signs.

Latest results show that at the end of the recent 2012-2013 academic year, 86.9 per cent of students educated in St Helens achieved five or more GCSEs (or equivalent) at grades A* to C - an increase in performance on 2011-2012 and above the comparable national average.

A quick mention also for Rainhill High and Cowley International College, who the BBC have included in their top 100 schools and colleges in England for vocational qualification outcomes at post 16.

Well done to both!