IT HAS been confirmed that Leek's Tourist Information Centre is to move to the town's Nicholson Institute.
Tempers flared at a special scrutiny meeting of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council last week as opposition councillors fought to relocate the office within the Foxlowe building at the top of Market Place, close to its current site.
The committee had originally agreed to look at alternative options to the Nicholson Institute, but this was overturned by the authority's ruling cabinet – leading to it being 'called in' for further discussion.
The council has been looking to sub-let the premises since September 2011, and is set to save more than £300,000 by moving it to the Stockwell Street site.
Councillor Charlotte Atkins claimed the move to the Nicholson Institute would mean it being less prominent than at present.
She said: "There is no objection to relocating the tourist office; it is about it being in a prominent position.
"The Foxlowe rent would be about £5,000 per annum and their volunteers would help to staff it, which could give longer opening hours.
"This is less money than it is costing us to lease a car for the chief executive.
"This decision will close down the tourist office as it will be hidden away and we will lose passing trade. When it was moved during refurbishment work footfall was 56 per cent less."
Councillor and town mayor John Fisher said the Nicholson Institute was unsuitable, and that many people would be unwilling to use new technology to access tourism information, as has been suggested.
He said: "How can it be justified to move the premises into a lobby?
"This is downgrading the Moorlands. Many elderly people do not use computers and people like face to face service.
"Banks and estate agents have websites but still retain high street premises. We have a new hotel being built but we are downgrading tourism.
"If the portfolio officer responsible for this decision is not prepared to negotiate a move to the Foxlowe then she must be held responsible for the demise of tourism."
Councillor Gill Burton, who has the responsibility for communities including tourism, said the council needed to save £2,257,440 in the council's medium-term financial plan.
She said: "Transferring the tourist office to the Nicholson Institute will consolidate two sites and will compliment each other.
"There is a lift to the proposed location and people do not have a problem finding the Nicholson Institute. There will be additional signage.
"Moving the tourist office into a council asset will save taxpayers money.
"The Foxlowe's future is still uncertain and the IT costs would be high.
"By moving into the Nicholson Institute people will have the museum, shop and tourist office together."
Council leader, Sybil Ralphs, said that the scrutiny committee's views had not been ignored.
She pointed to the £1 million-plus sum being paid to purchase the Foxlowe as an arts centre.
She said: "Talks took place with the Foxlowe some time ago. Councillor Fisher asked for this council to give them a loan, but we have had valuations which were no more than £600,000 for the premises.
"On value that is half of what they are paying, so we cannot give any loan. Why don't the town council move into the Foxlowe if they want to support it?"
On a named vote councillors voted not to proceed in taking the issue back to the cabinet to review its original decision, which means that the move to the Nicholson Institute can now go ahead.