I arrived at the civic centre, in Stoke, for the full council meeting, to see a large impressive banner for the March on Stoke:
March on Stoke
11.30am Saturday 23rd February
The protest march starts at NORSACA, Cannon Place, Hanley
(behind the Victoria on the Square pub) and will end at Kingsway, Stoke.
I refer as usual to webcast times in brackets. I will concentrate this blog on the motion opposing the move of the civic centre from Stoke, back to Hanley, but first some preliminaries.
Of note was the minute silence following the sad deaths of former councillor Mick Williams who I knew from Democracy4Stoke and council officer John Ross.
There were no speakers for public questions but one petitioner Wendy Anderson (in place of Michelle Buckle) (0:29:50) gave a good presentation requesting to keep Stoke Gymnastic Centre in its purpose built premises rather than move to Dimensions and asking for support for community asset transfer. She outlined how it could be more economically viable to retain it in its current building, which also addresses the safeguarding needs for collection of children by their parents which Dimensions does not. Cllr Mark Meredith (0:34:22) stated that discussions are taking place to resolve child safety issues if the club moves to Dimensions and there is a time limit for possible asset transfer.
Motion to retain Civic Centre in Stoke
I have written a blog on a previous meeting where the council approved a £40million loan to move the civic centre to Hanley and another blog on widespread public opposition to the name 'City Sentral' for the new Hanley shopping centre.
CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT
It is notable that Cllr Paul Breeze back in July approved the move of the civic centre but in the light of widespread public opposition has put forward the new motion opposing it. He said (0:36:25) he had been assured there would be interested parties to take over use of the civic centre and use the new central business district (CBD) facilities in Hanley but had become aware this wasn't the case and the move would end up costing even more money for the people of the city.
Cllr Dave Conway (0:41:32) pointed out that thousands of pounds of public money had recently been spent renovating the civic centre and moving now is irresponsible. There has been no proper consultation and there is resentment throughout the city.
Personally I approve of this motion and agree with the points made above. Many councillors commented. I will outline a few key points, categorised in terms of political party or group and add my views in italics:
Cllr Paul Shotton (0:54:10) said they had consulted and people want jobs. He said once all 6 phases were fully occupied (if they are) this will provide 4,000 jobs, plus 500 construction jobs. He said they are rationalising buildings. Building a replacement building is neither rationalising or rational! Also, they have not asked people specifically if they want to move the civic centre to Hanley.
Cllr Ruth Rosenau (0:49:58) wants more retail and offices to compare better with other cities.
Cllr Alison Wedgwood (1:02:56) gave a bizarre representation which seemed to be saying we want online betting and a city full of betting shops. Well I'm gobsmacked, I can only say I must live on an entirely different planet to her! But then personally I have moral objections to gambling.
Cllr Tom Reynolds (1:07:47) was a little dismissive of those of us in the public gallery. He quoted reports about attracting business to the city and bringing in business rates. Fair enough, although isn't the reality that businesses aren't being attracted? And there is no logic in linking the move of the civic centre to this.
Cllr Alan Dutton (1:13:37) said they need to honour the agreement made with Realis. He said a u-turn by the council would be madness.
Cllr Olwen Hamer (1:16:08) said we have a good new bus station and high speed broadband.
Cllr Mohammed Pervez (1:20:41) blamed the Tory government for cuts and said all the predictions were that cuts would continue until about 2020. Note that he didn't mention the cuts under the previous Labour government and didn't say the cuts would be any different if Labour win the 2015 general election. He also said the Trentham Lakes development was contentious at the time. In my view there are some useful businesses and employment at Trentham Lakes although there have been some problems with noise that have needed attention. But the biggest problem has been building houses there without building a new primary school to go with them. There is currently a shortage of primary school places in the area and in the city.
Cllr Matt Wilcox (1:27:23) said the current image of Stoke-on-Trent is not great. Students born and raised in Stoke-on-Trent tell him they can't wait to leave. The new CBD would be modern. Fair enough but the civic centre is not very old and has recently been renovated, so there is no need for it to move.
Cllr Joy Garner (1:34:27) cited other examples of new building from the past such as the Potteries Museum, although admitted the theatres had been problematic. She said Keynesian policy indicates now is a good time to undertake new building. That last point is fine, but it only makes sense to build what is needed and that doesn't include a new civic centre. Also the theatre problems are indicative that any building plan should be properly thought out and risk assessed, which this doesn't seem to have been.
Cllr Gwen Hassell (1:38:17) said in future that planning decisions of major local importance would be taken away from local government, which would be difficult as central government wouldn't understand our 6 towns structure. But she and Labour on our council are ignoring that anyway by concentrating on Hanley.
Cllr Alastair Watson (1:41:55) said business people are advising that CBD is a good idea.
Cllr Janine Bridges (1:47:55) said construction jobs would upskill the work force and talked about sustainability. But you don't build unnecessarily and construction jobs tend to be short term rather than sustained.
Cllr Martin Garner (1:44:14) criticised the opposition for being apathetic and negative, then admitted to not being happy about the private sector himself.
Cllr Shazad Hussain (1:56:23) said he may not be here at the next election and he needs to do his job. He said the city centre will be great but it might take a very long time.
Cllr Adrian Knapper (2:00:49) claimed companies are interested in the Spode site. So why has it been sitting there doing nothing for years? He said Cardiff bay and Birmingham Brindley Place are great but people get off the train in Stoke and say “1950s”. So renew Stoke then!
Cllr Andy Platt (2:05:17) did talk about Stoke but seemed to think moving the civic centre out would be a good opportunity and seemed to believe the Spode site would be redeveloped. He said Coronation Court on Lonsdale Street is being refurbished and work is being done to create 120 student flats on Hill Street. He claimed there were some green initiatives coming but wasn't going to tell us what they are!
Cllr Mark Meredith (2:12:37) accused the opposition of smirking. But Mark Meredith is one of the biggest smirkers I know! He seemed to think it is fine to get into debt for the CBD as it will either make money or buildings can be sold at profit.
Cllr Lee Wanger (0:46:36) said it is old fashioned for office based business to be in the city centre, which is why Festival Park is successful and pointed out that some business people who Labour says support them are based there.
Cllr Randy Conteh (0:52:18) said the biggest thing missing is consultation with residents and he wasn't even asked about this move as ward councillor. He said people's opinions should be valued.
Cllr Terry Follows (1:43:24) made excellent points about failed past regeneration promises and the civic centre in Unity House in Hanley being then moved to Stoke and now back to Hanley. He said the chief executive of the council when he was first appointed had advised cabinet to abandon the CBD because the figures don't add up. He said the civic centre in Stoke has good major road access and the railway station a 5 minute walk away, Stoke makes a good business district. He talked about the disadvantages of debt and paying the interest and blamed Gordon Brown for the national debt and cuts. He referred to the propaganda the council had advertised in the Sentinel and the cost of it. He said amusingly that he had been woken up by Paul Shotton's voice on the radio saying we have to consider the public's wishes! He pointed out that we, the public, were there in the public gallery. A good representation by my ward councillor.
Cllr Ann James (1:51:01) pointed out that the Unity House site, where the civic centre was last time it was in Hanley and which was demolished, had been up for sale for years. She said city centres no longer need as many shops because people prefer out of town centres where there is good parking and also online shopping. She feared that in the absence of a proper risk assessment the debt incurred could become even larger. She said everybody is speaking out against this move as there is no rationale or logic to it.
Cllr Jackie Barnes (2:11:39) suggested that Labour should read the small print on the loan repayments and said she would support the motion as it is basic common sense.
Cllr Jack Brereton (1:31:32) said the current decision is a massive risk, there is little private confidence and interest in it and it would mean abandoning Stoke and wasting money. He pointed out there is little support beyond the Labour benches for this project. He mentioned the total lack of consultation, so he had done his own residents' survey in his ward and found 80% against the move, 12% in favour and 8% didn't know. That is a job well done and good points well made.
Cllr Abi Brown (1:58:11) said she supports the CBD principle but moving the civic centre to Hanley is irrational.
Cllr Andy Lilley (1:06:00), who has recently left the Labour group, said he supports the CBD vision but said he would support the motion because he cannot justify borrowing the money whilst threatening council staff with cuts in pay and jobs.
Cllr Paul Breeze (2:29:09) presented a passionate summing up. He referred to the Labour spin in the Sentinel and said that some of those people don't agree with the move of the civic centre and one agrees with the 6 towns philosophy. He accused Labour of not taking a blind bit of notice of the electorate. (Nothing new there then.) He pointed out that the plans are speculative and there is no business plan. Labour has managed to galvanise the whole spectrum of people from political left to right and all points in between and non-political people from various walks of life, workers and pensioners and people who used to but no longer vote Labour, against this move. In a very good analogy with heart surgery he emphasised the risk and lack of consultation. He said when the council get consultants' advice they choose which they want. He referred to two reports, one of which says the council plans for the CBD are high risk and the other which says 2 shopping centres in the city centre can not be sustained. Instead we should focus on realistic options based on what we have. “It will end in tears” he said.
There was a named vote with results which will appear in the minutes, but basically Labour voted against the motion and everyone else for it, so it was defeated. It's a shame the Lord Mayor Terry Crowe didn't read out the numbers because they were a bit small to see clearly on screen, but I think it was 12 for, 26 against.