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Big wheel set for a re‘turn’?

Stratford's big wheel as seen from Stratford Cricket Club by the Recreation Ground last summer. Photo: Mark Williamson
Stratford's big wheel as seen from Stratford Cricket Club by the Recreation Ground last summer. Photo: Mark Williamson

THE controversial big wheel looks set to make a return to Stratford-upon-Avon — despite the company that operated it admitting the number of people taking a spin was less than expected.

Stratford-on-Avon District Council, however, has revealed that it was paid £155,000 in rent, and admits that was key to the decision to invite companies to bid to operate it in the same place on the recreation ground car park for six months, for the next three years.

The wheel arrived in April amid huge opposition and a concerted campaign to stop it.

And in documents published last week Tuesday, the council says the operator, de Koning Leisure Group Ltd, described business as ‘ticking over’, with the cost of getting planning permission and rates said to have been higher than the company had expected.

The council said there had been ‘relatively few complaints’ following the furore that preceded its arrival, and the document reveals the council considered having it in place for a shorter period, but the Herald has been told no other locations were considered.

It also says it might not be able to command the same amount in rent for the next three years, due to its mixed performance.

Jan de Koning, managing director, of Manchester-based de Koning Leisure Group, told the Herald yesterday, Wednesday: “It was OK and busy at times, but we thought we would have had greater footfall in that area, but it turned out not to be as great as anticipated.

“We would be interested in re-tendering, we’d have to see what the district council are saying first.”

Stratford Boat Club was one of the chief opponents to the wheel, which loomed large over its pavilion.

Spokesman, Chris Best, said: “We always knew it was a possibility that it would come back and we still remain opposed to it on the grounds that it is the wrong thing in the wrong place.

“We don’t think it has been advantageous to Stratford and we would be surprised if the sums have been done properly if it is being deemed a success economically, what about the lost car park income?

“It invaded our privacy, added to traffic and impacted on the safety of the general public and our members, and we still have concerns about all of those things.

“I would be surprised if de Koning return, we saw clearly on a daily basis the numbers of people using the wheel and it did not appear to be financially viable.”

The decision to bring it back was made at an informal meeting of the district council’s cabinet, with the successful bidder set to be announced by the end of January.

Planning permission will then be required with a view to the wheel being back in place by the Easter weekend in April.

District council leader, Cllr Chris Saint, said: “We felt that this year when we had the wheel and once people had experienced it the opposition mitigated a little bit.

“Money is tight and that has influenced our decision, if we had not had that sum this year we would have had some difficulties.

“I don’t expect everyone to agree with this decision but I am not anticipating that the opposition will be as vehement as last time.”

Joseph Baconnet, director of Stratforward BID, which manages the town centre, added: “The footfall impact on the town was fairly neutral, and we don’t think it increased the level of spend with linked visits to the attractions on the other side of the river. But, as a big wheel, it was not the garish monstrosity people feared, and it was very well run.”

The decision to re-tender for the wheel will be looked at at a meeting of the council's overview of scrutiny committee on Wednesday, 10th January, at the request of the opposition Liberl Democrats on the council.

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