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Was the big wheel a money spinner for Stratford?

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

DESPITE its departure Stratford’s big wheel continues to spark debate among residents but one area that still needs to be explored is the economic benefits it may or may not have brought to the town.

Initial enquiries made in April to both Stratford District Council (SDC) and wheel operators de Koning Leisure Group Ltd about the amount of money involved in the tendering process drew a cagey response from both parties who were unwilling to comment on an issue which they variously described as ‘commercially sensitive.’

Later it emerged that the estimated six figure sum de Koning Leisure paid the council was in fact in the region of £150,000 – a figure both parties agreed was ‘a ball park’ figure but not far off the mark.

So what did the council spend this money on?

This week a district council spokesperson said: “The wheel generated around £150,000 as part of the council’s initiative to be more proactive with its assets to reduce the burden on taxation and support the council’s budget in the long term. The money is used to maintain services and keep the council tax down. We have to look at different opportunities to generate income and this is money we would not have had from an empty piece of land.”

Speaking to the Herald last week, Jan de Koning, director of the leisure group said the experience in Stratford had been good and his staff and customers were happy but the financial return was summed up as “all right to profitable – at times.”

Lynda Organ, SDC’s portfolio holder for finance and physical resources, had this to say.

“The wheel was bit like Marmite it had its lovers and its haters but we have to remember it was only ever going to be a six month contract. Among the dissenting voices there were some who changed their minds and actually grew to like the wheel. Local authorities – not just Stratford District Council – are suffering from Government cut backs in funding and are having to actively find ways to generate income. The trick is to balance carefully what is acceptable as an income generating scheme which is also innovative. I can’t tell you if it will be coming back, that’s a difficult decision for the council to make.”

Joseph Baconnet, director Stratforward Business Improvement District Limited said he expected to meet with representatives of Shakespeare’s England shortly and the observation wheel will be part of that dialogue.

“It’s too early to say what the economic impact of the wheel might have been or how it might have influenced footfall in the town. Whether the wheel returns or not depends on establishing the economics of it,” Mr Baconnet said.

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