New chief executive of Wakefield Council wants to make district a '˜destination'

The new chief executive of Wakefield Council says she wants to turn the district into a '˜destination' for companies to invest and tourists to visit.

Merran McRae, who took up the post in June, said she had been impressed by arts facilities, heritage sites, parkland and business opportunities in the area. But, in an interview with The Express last week, she said more needs to be done to promote what Wakefield has to offer.

Ms McRae said: “We have a great arts and cultural offering, and lots of people come to the district to visit places like The Hepworth and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, but not the Wakefield as a whole.”

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She continued: “We need to look at how best to market the district in its entirety, as a destination, so that the city and all the towns and villages can benefit.”

One area she plans to focus on is the development of hotels and accommodation - for those studying through Wakefield College’s university centre and Backstage Academy, for tourists, and for professionals visiting the area on business.

She said: “Certainly, some businesses are reporting back that we do need more hotel spaces, and high quality ones, for business customers and for people investing in the area.

“We also need more family orientated hotels to get people to stop here as well.

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“The Bretton Hall redevelopment project is really exciting and we will start seeing that come to fruition over the next year.

“We are also looking at how we package Rishworth Street car park in Wakefield city centre to create a mix - a hotel or something for people at the university centre and their visiting parents, possibly some living space.”

Ms McRae said she also planned to push the district as a place for people to invest, attracting businesses to create new jobs as well as developers to provide housing.

“Wakefield has a lot of available land, which has lots of potential,” she said. “It’s got the M62 and M1 and trains to London, which are all of interest to external investors.

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“That’s why we have big companies like TK Maxx and Haribo here, because of that convenience and opportunity. It’s ideally placed to attract business and to build housing and schools for the people working here.”

Ms McRae replaced former chief executive Joanne Roney, who moved to Manchester City Council.

She came to the district from Calderdale Council, where she was chief executive from 2012.

Prior to that, she held positions as the Director of Wellbeing and Communities and Director of Housing at Kirklees Council.

Wakefield Council leader Coun Peter Box said: “Merran is passionate about making a difference and helping us to realise our ambitions for the district so that all residents benefit.”