Local politicians in war of words

A BBC political programme has sparked a war of words between Fenland Council leader Alan Melton and local Euro MP Richard Howitt.

Mr Howitt accused Mr Melton of failing to back a bid by Wisbech to win national funding to help regenerate its High Street shops during an interview on the BBC Politics show on Sunday.

The MEP said he was shocked to take part in a television debate on the bid, in which Mr Melton said shopping in the town “would have to contract” and that “this is not the sort of place people want to browse and pick up knick-knacks”.

But Mr Melton, while admitting he used the word knick-knack, hit back saying what he was said was taken out of context and accused Mr Howitt of jumping in with two feet.

“Richard Howitt needs to see the full context of the interview before jumping in with two feet.

What I actually said was the shopping centre will probably have to contract, I also said what Wisbech needs is a high quality anchor store in the centre, to draw people into the centre.

“At the moment this is not the sort of place people want to browse and pick up knick-knacks.”

He also refuted Mr Howitt’s assertion that he was not giving the bid to win £100,000 for the town to rejuvenate local shopping through the Portas Pilots scheme 100 per cent backing.

“The local council should not accept as inevitable that shops must close, and should join me in giving 100 per cent backing to an excellent initiative which could give a financial boost to local shopkeepers at a time they really need it,” said Mr Howitt, who hit out at Mr Melton after hearing the remarks he made whilst taking part in the television debate.

Mr Melton said: “I am committed to the redevelopment of the town centre of Wisbech, but as I said in a recent speech, it is time for a major re-think, with nothing ruled in or out.

“Of course I support the Portas initiative. Fenland District Council fully supports the bid. Perhaps Richard would care to ask the BBC for the whole interview which took 75 minutes, rather than latch onto a small section, which didn’t reflect my true feelings.”