“We can revive Britain’s high streets. But developers stand in the way”

“… there are just fewer and fewer drivers of footfall. You cannot get your hair cut online, so barbers – like nail bars, tattoo parlours and tanning salons – buck the downward trend. But we only need so many of these. Greggs and to-go food stores are buoyant; gyms and takeaways are the only sectors showing double-digit net growth, says PwC. But even that feels precarious. Delivery apps are driving growth in the takeaway sector but, if in-person purchases fall, these could quickly migrate to so-called dark kitchens on industrial estates.

“The reality is we may need fewer high streets in the future,” says a PwC spokesperson. “This opens opportunities to repurpose high street space, while [evolving] to meet consumer demand.”

But what will that look like? In 2011 Mary Portas, retail expert and Cameron-era government consultant, lobbied for an anti-clone-town drive to remodel high streets around independent shops. But bar a few niche fashion, gift or record shops, supermarkets marched relentlessly on. The butcher, baker and candlestick-maker now work in Tesco.

Consequently councils and property developers increasingly want to use food and drink to seed regeneration, many inspired by Altrincham’s Market House. In 2010, 30% of Altrincham’s shops lay empty. In 2014, the Market House opened – a communal dining hall of independent kitchens attached to a speciality market – and, since then, a remarkable ecology of bars, restaurants and coffee shops has evolved around it. Footfall has risen sharply, shop vacancy rates have fallen to 9.7% and brands such as JD Sports and Nando’s have moved into the town’s once-failing shopping area.

Market House’s operator, Nick Johnson, a former board member at property company Urban Splash, claims for the £635,000 it cost (£435,000 came from Trafford council, Johnson contributed the rest) : “It has probably delivered the greatest regeneration outputs of any project in 25 years.”

Little wonder councils love the idea: it allows them to cost-effectively reinvent one of the few central sites they still own, the market.

There are similar schemes in development countrywide. But it will be tough to repeat Altrincham’s success. First, it is a relatively affluent Greater Manchester town bordering Cheshire; and second, Johnson’s unorthodox curation of some exceptional foodie talent (like the artists on his friend Tony Wilson’s Factory records, none of the Altrincham traders have signed contracts) has provided an X factor that councils and developers will find hard to mimic.

There is also something about both the Portas and Altrincham models of handmade, artisan-roasted regeneration that, at their most crude, feel a bit myopically middle class. Mishandled, it can create silos of gentrification that alienate residents. Craft markets are great, but where does your nana buy a new washing line?

If town centres are to shrink and be redrawn, surely the ideal would be to intermingle viable businesses that attract different kinds of customers (in age and socioeconomic status), much as Trafford’s Stretford Mall is trying to blend hip new businesses into its established tenant mix. That fosters social cohesion but, commercially, there is strength in numbers, too – in making it easy to shop at Quality Save and Boots, Greggs and Stretford’s new Food Hall canteen, as mood or budget permits.

Not that this future should always have a commercial imperative. As town centres empty, there is a generational opportunity to reverse the gross monetisation of our public realm. This is a chance to make the principles of placemaking – creating inclusive public spaces where people can enjoy their leisure time without spending money – a reality. Nonprofit arts and cultural organisations forced out by high rents could, likewise, come back into empty shop units (long-term, not as a temporary gesture by developers), to re-engage local people with these spaces – and without it costing them £6 a pint.

But will any of this happen? The short answer is no. Councils do not have the money or the compulsory-purchase powers to radically intervene. Enlightened developers are rare. The patchwork of smaller private landlords who own peripheral space in town centres need to fill their properties, hence the fact that cool cottage industries tend to flourish there, in pockets. But the remote coalition of global property management, pension and investment funds that owns most shopping precincts or malls is, at best, distantly concerned with the local population.

Even if the retail property market crashes (in January, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors warned unusually of “potential for significant changes in value”), such owners will consolidate, sell property, bulldoze it and redevelop, and if shopping centres can limp on, they will. Under new permitted development rights, closed high street retail units can now easily be turned into residential property.

Where will those new residents congregate? High streets may yet be reborn as the genuine heart of their communities, protected from commercial pressure, but don’t bet on it – and certainly not online.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/sep/14/britain-high-streets-developers-footfall?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

EDA DCC Councillor Martin Shaw on fire service cuts

From his blog:

Yesterday I attended the private ‘masterclass’ for county councillors with Chief officers Ian Howell and Pete Bond – arranged instead of the public Scrutiny hearing which the Fire Service had refused to attend.

  • I protested about the over-complicated design of the consultation and the way it has closed off opportunities for the public to express views about particular stations – they said it was signed off by the Consultation Institute (I shall be writing to them) but like some members of the Fire Authority, I don’t think it is credible.
  • I challenged the misleading assumptions on which the calculations about ‘savings’ of life are based – they failed to respond.
  • I asked them if they accepted the estimate, based on their own data, that 600,000 people would have increased risk due to slower response times – this would include everyone in the Seaton and Colyton area – again they failed to answer.
  • I asked why they said it wasn’t about ‘cuts’, when papers presented to the Fire Authority showed clearly that saving money is a key driver.

Although I got to raise some other points about Colyton, I was cut off by the chair and didn’t get a chance to come back in. I’ll be writing up a full objection (and a paper for when this comes to Scrutiny – as I have insisted – on 25th September) and will post this here.

“Three things struck me even more forcefully, from this meeting and re-reading the papers in preparation for it:

  1. As with the hospital cuts, the bottom line here is asset-stripping. The sites represent over 80 per cent of the financial gains from the 8 proposed closures.
  2. Even more than with the hospital beds cuts, the ‘alternative’ ( in this case more ‘prevention’) is pathetically weakly developed. They’re selling off the family silver and not giving us any serious detail on what they’re offering instead. In all likelihood, they’ll pocket the gains and the prevention activity will barely materialise.
  3. Finally, they are worried about the high level of negative TV and press coverage – keep up the campaign!

Fire Service chiefs fail to answer questions at Devon County Council private briefing – but they are worried about the level of opposition

Where do profits go when British businesses are sold to foreign companies?

To disguise the fact that we are selling the family silver, these transactions are called “inward investment”. But how is tax levied and where do profits go?

And how come a Turkish pension fund can afford to buy the only British steel-maker left in this country when ours can’t/won’t?

A British windfarm, owned by a Spanish company is sold to an Australian company:

Macquarie buys $1.77 billion stake in mammoth UK offshore wind farm

A British steel company owned by an Indian company is likely to be sold to a Turkish military pension fund:
https://news.sky.com/story/turkish-military-pension-fund-plots-900m-british-steel-revival-11783143

The British-owned Morgan Sports Car company was sold to an Italian company:
https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/motoring/morgan-motor-company-sold-italian-firm-bought-a8810156.html

Boots was owned by the Swiss who sold it to the Americans:
https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/motoring/morgan-motor-company-sold-italian-firm-bought-a8810156.html

Sainsbury’s and British land sell British superstores to USA:
https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/motoring/morgan-motor-company-sold-italian-firm-bought-a8810156.html

Exmouth, EDDC and Grenadier – when does a gamekeeper become a poacher?

“Dear East Devon District Council,

[order slightly changed for clarity]

I am writing to request an internal review of East Devon District Council’s handling of my FOI request ‘Was independent advice sought on the governance of Queen’s Drive Exmouth Community Interest Company’.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/w…

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

Councillor Paul Millar has made some attempt to answer this FOI via Social Media. He provided more detail to my FOI than provided here, in, as I understand it his new role as a director of Queen’s Drive Exmouth Community Interest Company and a Councillor. However, although he asserted this via social media and also announced that there was another new director, according to Companies House, Cllr Stott and Cllr Williamson are still in place.

Are you able to provide more detail on the £200k that Grenadier made a good business case for according to Councillor Millar? Are you also able to clarify the amount of interest chargeable by Grenadier on the loan and other charges that the company is making to the CIC.

There appears to be some splitting of identity here, that may lead to a conflict of interest. For example when is Grenadier acting as a commercial business and when is it acting as the majority shareholder of the CIC? Are you able to offer reassurance and evidence that a valuable community asset is being utilised for community benefit rather than commercial gain?”

[Previous] council poor workmanship costs current council £150,000 to put right!

It is just a bit rich that the damage was done on the watch of the past chair of Asset Management – who is also the present chair and he now somewhat pompously says it must be put right!!! Er, if, as a council officer says “the survey wasn’t as extensive as in hindsight the council would have wished it was ..” perhaps this is one for the Scrutiny Committee!

“An extra £150,000 will have to be spent on resurfacing an Exmouth car park – because it was never laid properly by the council in the first place.

Improvement works, including resurfacing and construction of a new entrance, had been taking place at the Maer Road car park.

But John Golding, East Devon’s strategic lead for housing, health and the environment, told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that when work began, it became apparent the car park construction was substantially poorer beneath the surface that had previously been assumed.

He added: “We have found that the construction of the existing surface in the vicinity of the new entrance appears to be made up of compacted stone with a thin veneer of tar and chip over the surface.

“Given the limited depth of construction, and surface condition, it is likely that the car park would deteriorate very rapidly once larger vehicles are allowed onto it.

“More extensive works comprising both new sub-base and a tarmac finish are required to complete the project satisfactorily. We already have the contractors on site and we can do the work before the summer holidays commence.”

He added that this would result in an increase in the total overall budget of £151,760 and asked cabinet for approval to complete the work.

Cllr Geoff Pook, portfolio holder for asset management, added: “We need to do this. We have to look at our assets on a long life basis. We need to do a proper job from day one and don’t want to have to patch in a few years’ time or have a car park that cannot be used by heavy vehicles. It is out car park so we in any case would have had to do something and bring our own car park up to standard.”

Cllr Jack Rowland asked why this defect wasn’t discovered at an earlier stage during the survey works.

In response, Mr Golding said that the survey wasn’t as extensive as in hindsight the council would have wished it was.

Cllr Ben Ingham, leader of the council, added: “We made a false assumption that we had done the job properly in the first place and that they didn’t need to check the sub-layers, but that was a wrong assumption.”

The cabinet unanimously agreed to the extra spending to resurface the car park to provide a good surface and base layer for 20 years.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/exmouth-car-park-resurfacing-works-3082742

EDA Councillor helps out Exmouth with acceptable compromise on Queen’s Drive

Officers sought to get permission to use land it owns at Queen’s Drive, which previously housed recreation facilities, as a temporary overflow car park for 3 years. Exmouth councillors were appalled but could see no option but to agree. Colyton EDA Councillor proposed that the land should be so designated for 14 months only until September 2020.

Compromise achieved and agreed.

Lesson learned? Hhhmmm … let’s wait and see.

https://www.exmouthjournal.co.uk/news/queen-s-drive-seafront-car-park-plan-approved-1-6152147

“Unlawful decision by town council to open café led to £234k debt: watchdog”

A warning here for all councils.

“A town council did not give due consideration as to what powers it had to open a café, the decision was based on a poorly prepared business plan and, as a result, the decision to open the establishment was unlawful, the Auditor General for Wales has found.

Since opening the café in 2011, Connah’s Quay Town Council went on to incur a cumulative deficit of more than £234,000.

Finding failures in its decision making, the Auditor General’s report made three clear recommendations for the council to:

undertake a full option appraisal for the operation of Quay Café, incorporating a full financial appraisal of each option;

ensure appropriate advice is received prior to making decisions on the provision of new or novel services;

review the services it provides and ensure that it understands the statutory basis on which it provides those services.

The town council now has one month to consider the issues raised within the report and to make a decision on whether to accept these recommendations.

The Auditor General’s report is issued alongside public interest reports for Glynneath Town Council, Maenclochog Community Council and Cynwyd Community Council.

These reports set out significant failures in governance arrangements and inadequacies in financial management and internal control at all four councils.

The Auditor General for Wales, Adrian Crompton, said: “Given the scale of the deficit incurred at Connah’s Quay Town Council, I believe it is important that the public has a full and proper awareness of the events concerning the council. When it opened the café, the council did not have the statutory authority to do so and its decision was not supported by a clear and coherent business plan. As a result the decision was, in my view, unlawful.

“There are lessons to be learnt not just by this council, but by all town and community councils in Wales. The public interest reports issued today serve to highlight the shortcomings at four different town and community councils. Councils need to be innovative in dealing with community issues, but they must at all times display appropriate risk management and operate within their legal framework.”

Crompton added: “All four councils now have an opportunity to demonstrate that the risk of such governance failures recurring is reduced to a minimum. The public need to be assured that town and community councils have proper governance arrangements in place to manage the activities of the council both financially and administratively.”

https://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/governance/396-governance-news/40854-unlawful-decision-by-town-council-to-open-cafe-led-to-234k-debt-watchdog