OPEN LETTER TO JOHN VAN DE LAARSHOT & COUNCILLOR PERVEZ RE – REFUSAL TO RELEASE LAND TO THE POTTERIES SHOPPING CENTRE
Dear Mr van de Laarschot and Councillor Pervez,
I am writing to express mine and others very deep concern at the attitude of the council in refusing to release the council-owned land in Brewery Street and Bryan Street, Hanley, to Capital Shopping Centres and thereby effectively blocking the full expansion to the Potteries Shopping Centre. This seems to most people mean and petty and contradictory to everything that the council is espousing verbally and in its literature and appears completely counter to the so-called ‘Mandate for Change’.
Yesterday, along with my friend and fellow councillor Dave Conway, Leader of the City Independent Group, we met at the Potteries Shopping Centre with Mike Butterworth, Chief Operating Officer Capital Shopping Centres (which own the Potteries Shopping Centre along with many others in the UK), Martin Breeden, Director of Asset Management Capital Shopping Centres, and Paul Francis, General Manager Potteries Shopping Centre to discuss the various aspects of this decision, especially in light of the report contained in the document “Business Briefing: Stoke-on-Trent City Centre Updated Retail Capacity Analysis 2012”, commissioned by Capital Shopping Centres and produced by Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners, Planning Design Economics, and Lunson Mitchenall on behalf of Capital Shopping Centres.
For reference, the full report, which I found to be logical and utterly convincing, is contained in the following link:
After the meeting, both Dave and I came away quite disturbed at the council’s response to the Potteries Shopping Centre and the level of contradictions revealed in its reasoning, and came away extremely impressed with Capital Shopping Centre’s proven and on-going commitment to the City of Stoke-on-Trent and the City Centre in particular, despite its treatment by the council.
At the beginning of the process of the Potteries Shopping Centre planning application, we as councillors, and other residents of the city, were initially led to believe by the council that the City Centre could sustain two shopping centres – the existing Potteries Shopping Centre and the proposed Realis Estates’ City Sentral East-West development, that they would be compatible and would complement each other.
The Potteries Shopping Centre was encouraged with its application and spent thousands of pounds drawing up plans and designs and securing tenants. They went through well publicised full consultation processes, gaining tremendous support. They submitted plans and were ultimately granted full planning permission. They were clearly given the impression that the council were encouraging and fully supportive of the proposals which included multi-cinema complex, restaurants and a boulevard.
The council knew all along that the full development depended upon the release of the land (at Brewery Street and Bryan Street) to the Potteries Shopping Centre but then, despite the encouragement and implied promise of the council, the council refused to release the land to enable the full development to go ahead on the grounds that it could harm the proposed Realis Estates City Sentral shopping centre development on the other East-West side of the City Centre.
Apart from the fact that the Potteries Shopping Centre has in our view been treated appallingly by the council in this regard, there are a number of deep contradictions here.
Contradiction # 1: The city council says that Stoke-on-Trent is ‘open for business’ -arranging trade fair visits all over the place, putting on exhibitions and offering red carpet treatment to attract investors, businesses and entrepreneurs within the city and from far and wide outside of the city to buy land and buildings from the council on attractive terms and to invest in the city, and the council will help them in every way possible. And yet what do they actually do – at the same time they effectively block the full Potteries Shopping Centre development in what is an extremely important ‘gateway’ from the northern end of the city into the City Centre. Not only that, but this particular ‘gateway’ is currently dismal, neglected, dark and depressing. The full Potteries Shopping Centre proposal would make this ‘gateway’ welcoming, attractive and send out all the right messages that the City of Stoke-on-Trent is well and truly ‘open for business’ and here is the proof. But what does the council do – smack this business truly in the face. The Potteries Shopping Centre which was hailed as the flagship of the city, employs almost 3000, wants to employ more, creating even more jobs in the area, and attracting visitors from far and wide, and which has been loyal to this city throughout and is eager to build on that. But apparently that means nothing.
Contradiction # 2: The council has little or no money, but is willing to borrow £40 million to repay £57 million of future council tax payers money to build a brand new building in the city centre to move the civic offices from Stoke, on a gamble that this will be the catalyst to attract investors. Whatever one’s views about this (and there are arguments on both sides, for and against), the fact is that Capital Shopping Centres are willing to spend and invest millions of £s of their own money -not ours, but theirs, won’t cost us a penny – to build a fantastic extension to the existing Potteries Shopping Centre now – not tomorrow, not in five years or ten years or never – but now. They have been willing and eager to buy the land needed from the council and make this miserable ‘gateway’ into a shining ‘gateway’. The council says no, they can’t have the land. To most people, that is appalling.
Contradiction # 3: Unless I am mistaken, the city council is refusing to currently sell and release the land to the Potteries Shopping Centre on the grounds that we need to wait so that the two developments – the full Potteries Shopping Centre development and the proposed Realis Estates City Sentral development are progressing in tandem for the sake of the ‘bigger regeneration picture’. However, the recent report “Business Briefing: Stoke-on-Trent City Centre Updated Retail Capacity Analysis 2012” (as referred to in the link above) seems to clearly indicate with the latest empirical evidence that the City Centre cannot sustain two shopping centres given the economic findings and trends in the report. Therefore, if the city council is giving preference and predominant consideration to the proposed new Realis Estates City Sentral development, then it logically follows that the current Potteries Shopping Centre will ultimately be allowed to fail and inevitably die because the City Centre cannot sustain two. Which gives the lie to the city council’s previously stated support and encouragement to the Potteries Shopping Centre. And if the council or anyone else puts forward the argument that because the report was commissioned by Capital Shopping Centres therefore it will be skewed to produce the result that the Capital Shopping Centres want, then I would challenge those people – and Capital Shopping Centres representatives have stated quite openly to Dave Conway and myself -and they would wholeheartedly welcome this – to commission an entirely independent report. I confidently predict that the current report’s findings will be proven correct and stand up to rigorous scrutiny. Which leaves the city council’s previous projections on out-dated evidence produced before these dire economic times in a real mess, and left with a proposed new shopping centre that might not ever even materialise or have to be drastically re-adjusted to a much less ambitious plan for that site. That is why we should be welcoming and supporting the current Potteries Shopping Centre’s extension proposals in full and immediately releasing the land to enable this -because the Potteries Shopping Centre actually does exist and is not a dream.
Contradiction # 4: Given the very real serious uncertainty i that the proposed Realis Estates City Sentral development will go ahead as originally envisaged or even at all, doesn’t it make much more sense for the council to face the brutal reality of these circumstances and release the land and allow the full Potteries Shopping Centre development to go ahead and indeed show – not just spin and talk it up -that the city is truly ‘open for business’. And thereby fulfilling one of its pillars of promises as set out in the so-called Mandate for Change -supporting existing businesses? Otherwise, you might as well throw the current Mandate for Change document in the bin and do as Councillor Dave Conway suggests -Change the Mandate.
With great respect, please would you re-think your current position before work begins on the scaled back Potteries Shopping Centre expansion, release the land, and allow the full expansion to take place as originally submitted? There is still time.
Thanks and Best Wishes,
Councillor Paul Breeze