I was unable to attend to observe the Stoke-on-Trent City Council meeting on 8th December 2011. I arrived home from the dentist (ouch – not pain, cost!), hurriedly got some food ready for later then popped onto the live webcast and twitter just in time to catch the start of the motion against the name City Sentral for the planned Hanley shopping centre. I watched, read and tweeted a little then dashed out to the excellent Christmas concert at Trentham High School.
I have now caught up, watched the webcast and comment on some of the public questions and the City Sentral debate. (Webcast times are given in brackets.)
Adam Colclough had asked what steps the council would take to maximize electoral registration under the new individual registration system. Council Leader Mohammed Pervez had said that the exact response would await legislation but the council had achieved over 96% in recent years. Adam (0:18:28) asked if the council leader would engage constructively with community groups. The response from Pervez (0:19:32) is silenced on the webcast.
John Taylor, on behalf of Friends of Bucknall Park City Farm had asked who took the decision to abandon the tender process for the farm site, when and what bidders were told. Cllr Janine Bridges, Cabinet Member for City Services, said this was decided by the Director of Business Services in consultation with Elected Members on the 27th January 2011 and a notice was published. John (0:20:03) cited other councils that had retained their city farms and asked why our residents are not as worthy. Janine Bridges (0:21:16) said problems with land ownership had been resolved and it was now possible to look at integrating the site into Bucknall Park.
John Taylor had also asked about the unfulfilled stated commitment of the council to finding a new operator for a similar city farm for the future. Janine Bridges had said alternative uses for the land were being pursued because of lack of funding for a city farm. John (0:22:12) warned residents not to believe the word ‘commitment’ next time they hear this from the council and asked how this word should be interpreted. Janine Bridges (0:23:26) struggled to answer and talked about difficult decisions, then seemed to imply there was some hope for a city farm. John pointed out the contradiction between this and the written answer.
Kieran Clarke had said many other councils were sharing services and had asked why Stoke-on-Trent City Council was not doing this, as had been stated in the press. Cllr Sarah Hill, Cabinet Member for Finance, had said they were actually sharing in some cases and were investigating further sharing. Kieran (0:26:05) raised concerns that such ventures involved recruiting temporary workers when so many council workers were being made redundant. Sarah Hill (0:27:07) talked about this being best value.
Mick Williams had asked why he had not got answers to his public questions at the last two full council meetings (he didn’t – see my previous blogs on this) and asked for the issues to be addressed or the meaningless charade of secrecy and obfuscation to be discontinued. Pervez had replied that he believed the number of questions asked indicated success and asked Mick to email him the questions. Mick (0:28:48) said he had tried to ask questions again because he hadn’t had them answered and suggested that success should be measured by satisfaction from the response to questions. Pervez (0:30:10) seemed to think it was only necessary to give responses regardless of quality.
City Sentral Debate
Cllr Paul Breeze (0:57:26) proposed:
That, in view of the clearly overwhelming expression of public opposition to the name City Sentral for the proposed new Hanley shopping development, as a matter of significance to our city, as witnessed through many media outlets, including local radio, tv, newspaper articles, letters and a poll, in addition to an online petition and general word of mouth, this City Council:-
- rejects the name City Sentral for the proposed new shopping development
- In partnership with Realis Estates, endeavours to put in place a more acceptable process to choose a more appropriate name.
He mentioned this is not a political issue and gave a great speech about having pride in our city, respecting people’s views and involving them in the choice of name.
Cllr Andy Platt (1:03:42) said he hadn’t had any letters or emails about this and mentioned other issues such as jobs and housing, although he didn’t say how many letters he had had about those.
Cllr Alan Dutton (1:05:15) congratulated Paul Breeze, saying he had done the most to promote Hanley city centre shopping centre. Great!
Cllr Terry Crowe (1:07:20) said the debate is a waste of time because residents hadn’t told him they were concerned about the name. Clearly he doesn’t read the local press.
Cllr Mohammed Pervez (1:08:40) said the £350 million investment is important. He said “who are we to complain about the name”? Well Pervez, you are the elected members who are supposed to be representing the people’s views.
Cllr Adrian Knapper (1:11:07) declared an interest because he has a business, Realis are his landlords. He floundered over describing where his business is.
Cllr Martin Garner (1:11:48) said the council has no power and Realis can have what name they want. Weak!
Cllr Paul Shotton (1:12:44) said we shouldn’t question the name. Again, weak.
Cllr Randy Conteh (1:14:47) spoke in support of Paul Breeze’s motion. He supports the development but not the name because the majority of residents associations’ attendees he had met were against the name and he is representing residents. Well said Randy.
Cllr Mark Meredith (1:15:58) said investors saw no problem with the name. Worryingly he said shopping centres elsewhere had failed. Why I wonder, could it be anything to do with councillors and developers not engaging properly with reality?
Cllr Tom Reynolds (1:18:43) asked for the vote to be put.
Cllr Debra Gratton (1:18:58) said we shouldn’t be concerned about levels of education and she and her girlfriends are looking forward to the shopping centre. Enough said.
Cllr Dave Conway (1:19:45) said we should not confuse primary children. Agreed, what a weird world they have to grow up in.
Paul Breeze (1:22:43) angrily summed up that he was not surprised but deeply disturbed by levels of sarcasm, patronising and arrogance shown. He said Mark Meredith had been to RAs where all residents didn’t like the name, so he was the biggest hypocrite. Paul Breeze said he welcomes the investment but this is not about the money, it is about the soul of the city.
The motion was lost at the vote (1:26:07).
City Sentral History
Cllr Paul Breeze on the other hand had written an open letter to Duncan Mathieson, managing director of Realis, pleading for it to be changed. I don’t like his suggested alternative although he does say the people of the city should decide.
The debate regarding the name has been going on in the Sentinel since September. David Elks on 15th September posed the question “Hanley's new £350million shopping centre is going to be called City Sentral. Do you think the brand identity is a good idea, or does it make the city look stupid?” which attracted 60 comments.
My alliterative letter was one of many letters written to the Sentinel by aghast residents. Hearing Mark Meredith try to justify the name on BBC Radio Stoke prompted my letter, in which I promised to buy him a dictionary if he corrected the spelling.
D Hewitt from Newcastle said outsiders would conclude Stoke-on-Trent residents are the least well educated in the country. Richard Faulkner from Tunstall wrote a poem. Ann Salih from Norton wanted the talented and proud people of the city to be asked for suggestions for a name. Mervyn Edwards from Wolstanton called the name a “crackpot proposal”. Peter Bennett from Meir Heath discussed illiteracy. Phil Glover from Milton referred to the dubious spelling. Terry Buttery from Weston Coyney stated: “This can only further the misconception all Stoke-on-Trent people are dim and slow and deserve the bunch of idiots who run this city.” J M Morrey from Stoke-on-Trent accused the council of being weak. Lucy Hind from Trentham referred to our councillors’ “woeful academic standards”. Raymond Rhead from Meir Park queried why the council wouldn’t ask the people of the city what name they would like. Sandra Johnson from Stoke-on-Trent described the proposed name as “absolutely nuts”. Roy Hedges from Cheadle speculated that it could be a conspiracy to make fools of us. G George from Talke suggested the name “UpAnley”. Andy Morris wrote an excellent comment article describing the name as “crass stupidity". Mrs Jane Moore from Cheswardine near Market Drayton suggested Jubilee as an alternative name. Jeff Healey from Northwood questioned the logic of Realis approach.
More recently some letters approving of the name have appeared. Bill Quelch from Tunstall said he likes it and thinks it good marketing. Brian Walklet from Stafford reported being won over by the name because of the money. Richard Talbot from Penkhull went even further, calling the name a “stroke of sheer genius”.
However, others have not succumbed. Andrew Smith from Hanley takes the same view as I do, that the name should just be corrected to City Central. Patricia Skinner from Etruria is convinced the misspelling sends the wrong message. She has suggested plenty of alternatives and has spoken to Duncan Mathieson (who apparently insisted that Stoke-on-Trent has 5 towns not 6). It is clear these are not people who are inclined to listen to locals. Dave Everall from Newcastle sums up the situation well, he says: “Of all the ridiculous, misplaced and inept ideas that this city has had to put up with over the years this surely has to go to the top of the list”.
Pam James set up a petition against the name attracting 237 signatures. A Sentinel poll found 95.7% against the name.
Nevertheless, the Labour council will plough ahead and ignore what people think. Why do people persist in voting for them?