ILFRACOMBE is “sleepwalking towards becoming a ghost town”, the owner of a holiday park has warned.
John Fowler, who owns Ilfracombe Holiday Park, said: “Imagine the ghost towns in the Wild West – if you look around, there are so many empty shops in Ilfracombe.”
Mr Fowler claimed the town was “losing its life force” and being “starved of funding and goodwill”.
But the mayor of Ilfracombe has disagreed, praising people’s generosity and claiming there is a “feeling of optimism in the town”.
Mr Fowler is urging fellow local businesses to do more to support the town by funding local projects instead of “sending money to Timbuktu”.
This year John Fowler Holidays is donating £40,000 to charity – £20,00 of which will be given to local causes as part of an initiative Mr Fowler has named Project Ilfracombe.
“So many Victorian seaside towns decay and die, Ilfracombe is in grave danger of the same fate,” he said.
“But there is energy and vision in the town that can be nurtured.”
Mr Fowler said groups such as Ilfracombe In Bloom and Victorian Week brought the town to life, adding: “The hard-working local people behind these efforts need encouragement.
“I wish more people would think to help the deserving causes right under their noses.
“I’m hoping my cash gifts will act as catalysts to inspire more businesses and philanthropists to get behind Ilfracombe’s efforts to thrive.”
Mr Fowler will divide the £20,000 Project Ilfracombe funding between local causes including Ilfracombe in Bloom, Ilfracombe Victorian Celebrations and Ilfracombe Bandstand.
Mr Fowler is also donating £10,000 to Cancer Research’s local work and £10,000 to Barnstaple’s new chemotherapy unit.
Mayor of Ilfracombe Lynda Courtnadge praised Mr Fowler’s generosity but disagreed with his statements that there was a lack of goodwill in the town.
She said: “Many applications for funding for projects in Ilfracombe have ended in disappointment when we see other, more prosperous towns receiving it.
“However, although funding may be in short supply, the same cannot be said for goodwill.”
Mrs Courtnadge said the community was well known for its generosity.
She added: “Recent private investment by several national companies has certainly helped secure a brighter economic future, generating a feeling of optimism around the town.”