Monday, 1 April 2013

Alan Barrett reply to District Auditor

  • Dear Mr. Stocks,

    many thanks for your email which I received today regarding my concerns about the CBD in Stoke-on-Trent and its impact on the town of Stoke.

    First of all, and this may seem a small thing in the light of the bigger picture, but it's important to those of us who live here; there has never been a Stoke Town. It's Stoke upon Trent (no hyphens). The town itself pre-dates the city by many centuries, approaching a millennia and a half, and it's only been renamed by deceit and subterfuge by Kevin Bell when he was regeneration officer for the town. I spoke to him about his dubious tactics to get his own way, and he told me "I don't care". Now, I realise this particular aspect probably falls well outside your remit, but I include it for two reasons. First, I'd appreciate your not using the term Stoke Town, second to show you with just how much disrespect the voters and council tax payers of the city are shown by the UNELECTED officers who don't live here, never have and never will, contribute zero to the wealth of the city, will not have to pay for the borrowing they're inflicting upon the city, and appear to be operating as a ruling group outside the elected council. I have made my concerns know to the labour group and the labour HQ. No-one has seen fit to reply to me.

    Moving on to your actual report, many thanks for providing a copy. I note that on many occasions you mention the cabinet. I didn't see anywhere that the whole council was involved in the decision making process, presumably, they merely act as a rubber stamp to the council's decisions. I appreciate that this council has a huge majority and we all know that expulsions are the norm if any of them vote against the party whip, which is used far too regularly in my opinion. Surely, as a financial burden to the whole city, the whole council should be involved in discussion about this loan, not merely the ten people with a vested interest in keeping their power base?

    The consultations you mention were carried out AFTER the decision was made, and the illegally named "Mandate for Change", which has no mandate for this move, nor the loan, as it was never put before the electorate, is trotted out as a mantra by the whole Labour party, as though this is the panacea for all problems. Again, public money being used to promote an illegal agenda.

    Further, issuing a document is NOT consultation, especially as it's well known that most people don't read such documents and as I said, the decisions had already been made before the publication. In my opinion, consultation takes place BEFORE a decision is made, especially with public finances.

    Furthermore, we've been told constantly, particularly by the deputy leader, Cllr Shotton, that we have to "consolidate the buildings management", meaning we all have to move to Hanley, because we have far too many council offices, yet the report clearly states the provision of council offices in the towns. There is a dire hypocrisy here, and it needs to be fully explained.

    I also note with great interest your comment -

    "I recommend that the Council:
    reviews its CBD transition management plan covering the logistics of the transition,
    customer access and service hub plans and the full requirement for buildings. This plan
    should be shared with members; and
    reassess its overall project management arrangements and ensures that it has sufficient
    resources to oversee the projects."

    Sufficient resources would indeed be the issue. So far, there is nothing at all apart from "29 expressions of interest", which is as nebulous as you can get, in the potential sale of the Stoke site. You've also expressed concern that the time to create the regeneration needed in Stoke upon Trent has no clear committal. I contend that this is a deliberate policy by the council.

    Some of us have very long memories and can recall the wonderful Victorian market in Stoke being burned down "accidentally". They did nothing to rebuild it for ten years while Hanley was, even back then, built into the shopping centre. They put the A500 in, deliberately cutting Stoke off from Hanley and all the developments they're suggesting for Stoke involve new roads etc travelling from the railways station AWAY from Stoke, to Hanley.

    We've been throwing millions of pounds at Hanley for decades, and it's still awfully difficult to get to and to park in, with no discernible proof that it's working as a policy for improving the WHOLE city.

    Raising business rates in a recession is muddled think at best, expecting to attract new businesses to relocate there when it will cost their employees about £1000 a year just to park in Hanley, (there appears to be very little provision plan for employee car parking), is short-sightedness on a monumental scale, and to have a Central BUSINESS District with only 3 tenants listed thusfar, and none of them BUSINESSES, (the council, the library and the police station), is staggeringly bewildering in their "Field of Dreams" mentality: - if you build it, they will come. Really?

    The bus station, much needed, 20 years overdue, 6 months behind even that schedule, badly sited, poorly planned and far too small, is at least a step in the right direction. However, you also mention that work on the City Sentral (sic) should be in tandem with the CBD. I would ask you to delve deeper into Realis and Genr8, to see just how poor their credit ratings are, and how many developments of this magnitude have come in on time or without complaint. Those of us campaigning against the move of the Civic Centre to Hanley have done our research, and it's frightening!

    There is a long history of multiple shopping centres in Hanley, including on the site of the proposed new one, and in every case, without exception, one of them has failed. Again, I remind you that NOT ONE anchor tenant is firmed up on a project that's been at least 2 years in the marketing.

    Sadly, it makes bleak reading and the future of our city is clearly not in good hands under the present administration. They are not listening, and by your own report, have much to do to gain any public trust at all. I realise your role is that of ensuring proper procedures are followed and public spending done appropriately, but given all I've stated above, surely you must have serious cause for concern. The consultations of two very major reports appear to have been ignored, presumably because they express very serious concerns about the viability of the move of the civic offices from Stoke to Hanley.

    All in all, there are still many concerns, even fears, about the cavalier approach the council and its officers are taking in a time of austerity, shrinking demand for retail outlets and the disturbing lack of business interest in this project. I urge you to please look again at the proposed move and its implications for the whole city.

    Yours sincerely,

    Alan Barrett

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