2012- the year of delivery

With the New Year just hours around the corner, Bill Cawley looks towards 2012, the year of delivery.

Its two years since John Van Der Laarschot became Chief Executive of the City Council and it will be 12 months from May since the Council was in Labour majority control. This year will need to see both parties delivering on the objectives that they set themselves. Residents of the city will need to see progress on a number of projects and some way out of the encircling gloom that has gripped the area since 2008. Currently over 8,000 citizens of Stoke are unemployed, local economic activity appears sluggish and the outlook nationally seems uncertain. Something needs to happen but what?

However there needs to be seen to be progress and actual completion in a number of key projects and top of the list must be Hanley Bus Station. My understanding was that the station ought to be finished by next autumn. There is work going on site and one hopes that finishing the bus station is very high on the agenda of the City Council. I wonder whether there is any recognition of the need to ensure that local projects like this do generate local jobs. It will be essential for local projects to deliver tangibly local jobs otherwise The City Council will be neglecting their responsibility.

Secondly linked to the Bus station is the need to attract investment and interest in the Sentral development in Hanley. News has reached the local media that Marks and Spenser amongst others are interested in the development but in my opinion that M & S interest only means displacement from an existing site in the centre of Hanley. Again a benchmark will be an increase in take up from leading brand shops and a timetable for completion of the project.

Another area of concern is a resolution of areas like Middleport and the difficulties faced by the reduction in funding for RENEW. The blight that is Middleport needs to be seriously addressed in the coming year.

The bid for the Green Investment Bank locally has been made although I would personally like to see a strong case made for putting this developments with its promise of excellent jobs and potential for the green economy having a more central role in the local economy. A decision is likely in March.

Another conundrum for 2012 will what to do with the Spode site in Stoke. Just before Christmas a press report indicated that Tesco were not interested in developing the site. What to do with the site will be a question that will require some resolution in the coming year.

The desire for more ” localism” will also dominate political discourse. There has been interest in both Penkhull and Fenton for more self-government and patience with the City Council has become stretched especially over such issues as the future of Fenton Library and other civic amenities in the area.

Which brings me to another topic which will again command debate in 2012 and that is turning former civic assets over to community groups to run independently. Perhaps the first acid test will be the future of Wedgwood Memorial College in Barlaston. There is a strong desire to retain the facility for educational use and a group of interested individuals have put together a business case to take over the facility.

On a more certain note 6 of the City’s new schools school be completed and ready for occupation by the autumn term including the new and interestingly designed Brownhills school although the costs of PFI are still a subject worthy of future investigations.

On a more equivocal note the debate and questions over the Dimensions debacle still remain and must cast doubts on the future of the officers and councillors involved in this matter.

Another policy change, which will have serious implications for the City Council in terms of its social and health care services, will be the rapid changes to the NHS Primary Care with GPs taking more control over commissioning decisions. I have serious doubts whether the Health and Wellbeing Board- a function within the City Council- is fully aware of the centrality of their role in ensuring equity in accessing services is maintained.

1 hope of mine in terms of delivery of a service will be the reopening of the railway line between Leek and Stoke which is projected to happen in the autumn of 2012. I went to a public meeting in Leek and the speed in which this project is happening makes me optimistic that this will be a project that does see fruition in the coming year.

2012 will be the year I feel in which reputations at the Civic Centre especially the senior officers in post will be made or broken.

VINCI Construction UK Selected As Principle Contractor For Stoke-on-Trents New Bus Station

VINCI Construction UK, who built the new Tesco store in Hanley in 2010, has been selected by Stoke-on-Trent City Council as the principal contractor for the development of the landmark new bus station in Hanley.

The appointment will see the next phase of the bus station start in the New Year as work on the foundations for the site start by the end of January.

Councillor Ruth Rosenau, Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet member for regeneration, said

Over the next few years Stoke-on-Trent city centre will start to look very different as major projects such as the regional new shopping centre, bus station and improvements to the public realm areas are developed. The new city centre bus station will create an important facility and stunning new gateway in to the city centre. It is exciting to see the project progressing to the next stage with Vinci.

VINCI Construction UK was chosen from 16 companies that showed a strong interest in undertaking the next phase of the Grimshaw Architects designed bus station.

Work on the site has progressed well since it started in April 2011. With the site now fully secured by 8ft hoarding, the ground works completed and the site prepared for foundations to start in the New Year. Work on the foundations will take around 8-10 weeks to complete with the new facility due to open in Autumn 2012.

Chris Hamer, Managing Director of VINCI Construction UK Building Division – North, said

VINCI Construction UK is helping to initiate the redevelopment of Stoke-on-Trent’s city centre with the construction of the first phase of City Sentral, the new bus station. We are replacing a tired 1960’s building with a new visually captivating facility that will kick start the redevelopment. It is exciting to be part of a project that will have such a positive effect for Stoke-on-Trent and improve the public realm.

The landmark new bus station will make way for the new £350million shopping complex – City Sentral – to start on the site of the current city bus station.

Duncan Mathieson, Managing Director of Realis Estates, said

The bus facility is an important first step towards transforming City Sentral. Work on the new bus station is set to progress quickly, setting the scene for us to move ahead with the main City Sentral development. Once completed, City Sentral will transform Stoke-on-Trent city centre with the stunning new bus station acting as a landmark gateway to the Midland’s newest regional shopping and leisure destination.

Hanley Bus Station location

Regeneration Its too easy to blame the Tories

Just watched the item on Stoke on regional TV with increasing incredulity. It is simply not on to blame everything on the Coalition and that might give some reason to believe that some people are off the hook but that is where they belong and they squirmed tonight as the TV lingered over the wasted landscape that is part of the city. I believe that RENEW did some good things and to be fair they did build housing on places like Coalville, but the picture I have, and which has been confirmed by others who worked close to them is muddle, indecision and lack of any ideas. I am told that they had to return a large amount of money- I believe £26 million because they had no projects on which to spend the money. I noticed that Brendan Nevins as filmed by the railway station handy so that he can get back to Manchester.

I say not to blame everything on the current Government because the roots of failure probably existed from the onset as I noted 2 ½ years ago in a letter in the Sentinel. I wrote in June 2009

“Your editorial- skilled Jobs are needed- was timely and it made me think of how we stand since it is 5 years since the publication of the consultants KPMG on the future of the area was published. The report highlighted the problems that faced the area and the possible remedial action to solve some of the endemic problems that North Staffs faced. It also was part of the procedure that led to the establishment of the organisation leading regeneration in the area- Renew. It might therefore be a handy means of looking at the problems then and whether there has been the improvement that the establishment of the North Staffs Regeneration Zone was supposed to herald.

The KPMG painted in 2004 a grim picture of an area, which required high levels of investment in all aspects of life. There were low levels of skills in the population. Wages were £100 a week lower than the English average. Stoke had an unemployment rate back then of 7% with a high claimant level. The area was loosing population and the proportion of managers and entrepreneurs was depressingly low. Coupled with this was a high level of empty properties- nearly 4,000- and a large amount of poor quality land of which 87% was “brownfield”.

The prognosis was grim but the solutions promised by the massive amounts of private and public investment that were to be levered in would transform the area that by 2010 there would be “significantly improved conditions across the area”. And to counter the low wage economy there would be 5,000 people in high value jobs in the Chatterley Valley site alone by 2009.

At the time the regeneration zone project promised to be the largest regeneration scheme outside East London and the report was sold as very much the last chance for the area. I remarked at the time that since the early 70s there had been something like 17 Government Initiatives in North Staffordshire dating back to the early 70s of which the North Staffs Regeneration was the biggest and had made the greatest promises.

I ask in five years what progress had been made and I also ask, if the answer is a gloomy one, perhaps we are looking at this from the wrong angle.

I was interested in hearing a radical scheme that was being proposed in one of the poorest cities in the US in Flint, Michigan. A city that is close to the equally depression ravaged Detroit. The policy called “Shrink to Survive” calls for razing entire districts and returning the land to nature.

Local politicians believe the city must contract by as much as 40 per cent, concentrating the dwindling population and local services into a more viable area by razing entire districts and returning the land to nature. The idea has captured the imagination of President Abeam who has proposed that 50 other communities in the US including major cities such as Pittsburgh and Baltimore be considered as part of this initiative. Some communities have been proactive and are looking at the possibility of developing land banks and considering how redundant land could be used in other ways in a new and sustainable way. One interesting idea worth considering is using redundant urban land for biomass crop planting which in turn would be an interesting revenue raiser as well as providing jobs.

Perhaps the problem with the thrust of regeneration over the last 30 years in North Staffs is that we have been waiting for a “Wizard of Oz” character to grant the wishes of local politicians in the hope that some global company moves into the area. In the present climate is this likely to happen? The answer might well be that we have in it our power to make our own “Emerald City”.

That was over two years ago well before David Cameron’s Government took office. The only sign of hope was given by one commentator who suggested that community groups might build the houses on the derelict land an idea that Mike Wolfe broached at his recent Sentinel lecture

West Enders Set For Life of Luxury at New Extra Care Village

A state of the art extra care housing complex in Stoke Town which has been developed by Staffordshire Housing Association to provide high quality homes for older Stoke-on-Trent residents is now complete.

The first residents have just moved into West End Village, and others will move in throughout January and February.

The complex has been designed by Stoke-on-Trent based architects, Hulme Upright Manning.

It was constructed by GB Building Solutions Limited. 700 jobs were generated on site during the construction phase and 19 young people were taught construction skills.

The £18 million scheme has received investment of £7,292,500 through the government’s Homes and Communities Agency. Other funding has included £1,500,000 from Stoke on Trent City Council, £500,000 from RENEW and £11,100 from the Carbon Trust. The remaining costs have been met by Staffordshire Housing Association.

West End Village is built on the former site of the Bilton pottery works which had been derelict for several years.

The village has 100 apartments ““ 80 for rent and 20 for sale ““ and boasts a range of high specification communal facilities including a restaurant, lounge bar, coffee bar, unisex hair salon, gym, therapy suite and a general store.

Staffordshire Housing Association pioneered the “village living” concept for older people at Bradeley, Stoke-on-Trent, in the 1990s, and now have four high quality villages for residents to choose from.

“West End Village makes a significant contribution to the regeneration of Stoke town, with high quality accommodation for older people.

Residents of the village live independently in their own apartments while enjoying top class communal facilities.

They also have the assurance that care and support services are available at the village 24 hours a day ““ catering for residents’ changing needs.”

Tristram Hunt, MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, praised the developers of the new extra care village for putting residents’ needs at the heart of the project.

“I welcome the opening of this new development as part of the regeneration of Stoke town. I am very pleased that Staffordshire Housing Association has put the needs of their residents at the heart of the project. The development has been designed with community space in mind and I am encouraged it will allow residents to maintain their independence and access the relevant care should they need it.”

A time capsule was buried on the site during construction containing items suggested by children from nearby Stoke Minster Primary School including an MP3 player, a recipe for Staffordshire oatcakes and a 2010 shopping list.

Fat Cats

We have a situation where the Chief Executive of Staffs Moorlands District Council is paid £151,000 a higher rate than does the Prime Minister. I would have thought that there was a considerable difference between the responsibilities between someone who has the key to our nuclear deterrent and a CEO who runs a middling local authority even if you throw High Peak Council in?

But what of fairness? Fairness is a phrase that it banded around nowadays. We live in a town where lack of fairness is evident all around us. I was talking at a local supermarket to a woman who works in catering at the local Council serving refreshments to officers and Councillors and it is likely that her job will go. She bemoaning that it is always this on the lowest incomes who take the bullet when the cuts take place. She told me her husband lost his job last year.

I should note that one of the objectives of the SMDC of which Mr Baker is the head is to secure a strong economy I am not sure a policy of job losses and cuts does anything to achieve that objective. Beside does anyone walking around the streets of our Moorland towns believe that we are going through a boom time?

The truth of the matter that we live in a time where the rate of senior officers pay is escalating and I am unconvinced that we are getting a bang for our buck. The example of Stoke Council illustrates this where the pay of the Chief Executive in the course of a few years has increased from £120,000 to £198,000. I wish I could say that in paying executives a salary that dwarfs the average pay of North Staffordshire that we get quality. The Chief Executive of the local regeneration agency was paid a huge amount and yet the impact of RENEW on the local area has been nothing short of disastrous as anyone who travels through Hanley and Middleport will testify.

Similarly both the Vice Chancellors of the local Universities get salaries of over £240,000 despite the difference in size.

Pay in the public sector is now in the spotlight following the recent publication of a report by economist Will Hutton recommends a ratio of 20:1 between the highest paid and the lowest paid in a local authority.

So why choose 20:1? According to Hutton, because that’s the ratio that David Cameron suggested to him which might explain why, while appearing to do something about the obscenely excessive pay at the top, it actually achieves little. The national minimum wage is currently £5.93 an hour, so assuming a 37-hour week a 20:1 ratio works out at £228,186 or £4,388 a week, as opposed to bottom pay at £219 a week. If public sector top pay is widely resented as already much too high, we should lower the bar substantially below current excesses.

A reasonable compromise might be 12:1. That would still give a top executive £136,912 a year, or £2,633 a week, which most people would think more than adequate.

Any advances?


Developers Short Listed To Build 100 New Homes In The Canal Quarter

Four national developers have been short-listed to design and build around 100 new homes in the Canal Quarter in Hanley Stoke-on-Trent.

Work on preparing the site for development has already begun which will include the creation of a new public square and water features linking the city centre to the Caldon Canal.

Each of the short-listed developers will submit outline proposals for the project with a decision on the preferred team expected later in the year. The chosen developer will then be asked to prepare a detailed plan for the project by early next year. Work is due to start on the first phase of the scheme, which will involve around 90 properties, in Spring 2011.

It is fantastic to see such an array of celebrated developers in the short-listing for this residential scheme. The new Canal Quarter will provide a mixture of high class homes in the city centre. It will compliment other regeneration projects such as the new bus station, Tesco store and Central Business District and it is good to see significant progress continuing to be made. The location overlooking the historic Caldon canal and within easy reach of city amenities will provide a real draw to residents looking for city living opportunities.
The level of interest and quality of the shortlist shows there is a good appetite from developers to work in Stoke-on-Trent, and we look forward to working with the city council in appointing a preferred partner later this year to support us in delivering the vision for City Waterside and its community.

The four short-listed developers are:

  • Westbury Partnerships (on behalf of Persimmon Homes)
  • Rok Building Ltd
  • Keepmoat Ltd
  • BDW Trading Ltd (Barratt)

Council End Of Year Accounts Shows Over £140 Million Investment In The City

The report to cabinet presents the year end capital outturn for our capital programme. This covers capital investment by the city council and those funded from other sources such as £35m for the RENEW programme.

Councillor Mohammed Pervez Leader for the city council explained,

“This has been a very challenging financial year for the council and it is likely to get even more challenging in the next two to three years. Many of our key funding partners have seen their funding programmes cut yet we continue to invest significant money into the city.”

“We continually review our capital projects to ensure maximum external funding is achieved. In total the city council invested over £140 million into the City during 2009/10 with an additional £27 million being carried forward into 2010/2011 committed to specific projects. I want to assure people that no funding will be returned or lost.”

The remaining £27 million has been reprogrammed into 2010/2011 and relates to the timing of the investment. The key areas which have been rephased are; £2.4 million heritage country park project at Chatterley Whitfield due to open October 2010, £5 million acquisition and development of the Spode site which is key to Stoke Town regeneration, £9 million into Adult Social Care £3m reprofiling of investment in infrastructure and £3m in Adult Social Care to ensure alignment with policy direction.

Councillor Kieran Clarke, Cabinet member for finance added,

“Key milestone projects funded by this huge £140 million investment include: the £4 million Mitchell Memorial theatre refurbishment; phase one of the £7 million redevelopment scheme for Ingestre Square; a new City Centre bus station designed by internationally renowned architects, Grimshaws, with work due to commence March 2011 unlocking over £300 million investment opportunity in the East West precinct development; and finally the much celebrated and confirmed key developments in our Building Schools for the Future programme.”

As well as the capital programme delivered by the City Council, through our regeneration partners additional investment has been delivered into the sub-region into priority regeneration projects, which totalled over £165m during 2009/10.

In reply to Tristram Hunt

Tristram Hunt in his recent Sentinel article identifies the central problems that have beset my hometown-Stoke on Trent- but it is a problem that has probably existed from since post Second World War. A reading of any local newspaper from before the 1950s will inform anyone that the long-term decline of the area is nearly getting on for 50 years.

Of course the area was badly hit by the mass unemployment of the 80s but over all something like 120,000 jobs have been lost in the traditional industries of steel, pottery and mining since the 50s

But I do not have a pessimistic view. I do believe that Stoke and the wider North Staffs area does have a future, but we live in perilous times.

Mr Hunt is right to invoke the names of Wedgwood, Brindley and the rest, creators of the Industrial Revolution who deserve their place in the Pantheon of people who made modern Britain. I have no doubt that spirit of enterprise still exists in the area, but the area has been ill served and opportunities have been missed. I recall as a young Stoke Councillor in the early 80s making the case for a transit system the same as was being proposed in Manchester and Sheffield using the old loop line. What could have been achieved in settling the transport problems of the area if we had such a system?

It is not as if the area has been starved of Government cash or lack initiatives. Since the mid 70s there have been a number and a perusal of the local papers over the years marks the launch of one initiative after another all of which, in banner headlines, offered hope and a route to turn the area around. The latest being the local pathfinder RENEW which offered so much when it began in 2004. But mistakes have been made perhaps the most glaring being the return of over £20 million to the Treasury because the regeneration authorities could not think of any projects to spend the money.

The problem has been, in so many cases; the authorities have had no confidence in the local people of North Staffs. How many times have managers been bought in to run these projects who have no commitment to the area. The City Council is itself a good example in this regard. The appointment of Mr Van Der Laarschot is the 5th Chief Executive since 2006. How can you build foundations for the future when the most senior managers in the authority have no passion for the area and seem to see it as another brief stage on their CV?

But I want to sound a more triumphant note and Tristram is correct in one regard. He rightly identifies the potential and skills of local people and the answer will be to harness this talent.

As a Stoke person myself who lived in Tristram’s constituency for the first 20 odd years of my life before going off to University and then serving as a Councillor in Hartshill for another 7 I have attempted to give an opportunity for people who feel strongly about the area and its potential to express their ideas.

A few weeks ago I set up the Regenerate Stoke Facebook site mainly because I felt a deep sense of frustration of how closed the debate has been on the future of Stoke. In the past I have given for free a number of ideas to the regeneration agency and have felt patronised by the response.

I felt a few years ago that more could be made of the Wedgwood connection and that an annual festival around the Wedgwood themes of Industry, Art and Design could be held to generate ideas. The idea did not get anywhere.

( And by the way I slightly disagree with Tristram that there is a tradition of valuing learning especially in science and engineering. The area has a rich tradition of producing people in the forefront of science from Lord Kearton in the north through to Oliver Lodge, RJ Mitchell, Thomas Wedgwood and others I had little awareness of. For example a friend of mine- an Old Longtonian- mentioned a father and son Professors’ Astbury- father and son- who were pioneers in the structure of the keratin molecule significant in the wool industry who both attended his old school)

Regenerate Stoke has only been up a few weeks but has already attracted over 200 people and the site is brimming with ideas. Ideas such as the importance of art in regeneration, Green Energy schemes, the role of design, the possibility of setting up a LETS scheme, re establishing the Stoke-Lidice connection in the Czech Republic and the possibility of developing derelict land in the City. Ideas are there. The problem is for whatever reason the authorities have studiously ignored them and it is this that has to change.

Several people are mustering to organise a citizens conference on the future of the City in its second century to be held in the autumn. We live in hard times but we need to be positive about the future. It won’t be easy. The road will be long. Some, like the great cathedral builders of Europe, may never see completely the fruit of their endeavours. But the pioneers who founded these great cities never got to see them in their first glory either.

We’ve come full circle. We are present again at the re-founding of a City like Stoke. This is the task, the duty, the calling that a new generation has chosen as its own, to write the history of their city anew. We need to make history again.

Canal Quarter Plans Get Underway With Road Closures

Plans to develop over 250 new homes and create a major new pedestrian route through the city centre are starting today (June 1) as part of the development of the Canal Quarter; Renews flagship project.

The Canal Quarter, included within the City Waterside masterplan, also aims to deliver a new large scale building and other small scale commercial, leisure and retail outlets within an identified five hectare area.

Advanced notices will be implemented today advising that by the end of the week permanent road closures will be applied to the following three roads:

Talbot Street;
Berkeley Street;
Howson Street.

The closures of these roads are necessary to allow drilling and grouting works of the disused mineshafts underneath the site. These works will take 13 weeks to complete. Following this the city council will project mange the creation of fully serviced development plots. Work for this will start in the autumn this year and will last for between six to eight months.

In addition double yellow lines will also be implemented to Pelham Street and Bernard Street.

Councillor Brian Ward, cabinet member for housing, planning and transportation: said: “The development work to the Canal Quarter will act as a catalyst for future investment in the city and is a key step to the overall regeneration of Stoke-on-Trent. By creating pedestrianised areas we are helping to encourage both residents and investors back into the city.”

It is anticipated that a residential developer will be appointed later this year and the first houses will be built in the late Spring 2011.

North Shelton Residents Asked For Views On Rejuvenation Plans

Residents in North Shelton will have the opportunity to view detailed rejuvenation plans and offer their views to help shape the rejuvenation of 8 sites in the area.

Renew North Staffordshire wants to get views on options for the following 8 areas:

  • creation of a pedestrian route in Snow Hill bordered by mews houses next to St Mark’s Church, the refurbishment of the Bell and Bear pub, the redevelopment of the chest clinic on Wellesley Street into family housing and the creation of a nature trail next to the local primary school.
  • The clearance of six houses on Raymond Street and using the area for employment purposes or potential improved access routes.
  • The creation of 17 family homes ranging from two to five bedrooms on land between Norfolk Street and the Caldon Canal.
  • The building of 64 new homes, 302 apartments and 2,200sqm of commercial and other business space on largely derelict land between Bedford Road, Howard Place, Shearer Street and Shelton New Road.
  • The creation of 23 houses, 39 apartments and almost 4,000sqm of commercial space on the corner of Snow Hill and Shelton New Road, including redeveloping the Elms restaurant and converting and extending the Snow Hill college building.
  • The creation of 21 houses and 10 apartments on compulsory purchased sites on Bedford Place, Rectory Road and Havelock Place.
  • The demolition of a small number of houses on the corner of Rectory Road and Argyle Street, and replacing them with three new houses.
  • The retention of open space backing on to Clough Street.

Councillor Brian Ward said, ‘The events are the chance for local people to find out about and comment on proposals that will shape how their community will be developed. It is vitally important that as many residents as possible come along so that they can have their say and their views can be considered. Residents will be able to see exhibition boards and talk to officers to find out more about the plans.

Feedback from the events will be carefully considered. We are also carrying out questionnaires to ensure we get as many comments as possible.

The preferred options will be subject to a thorough appraisal, considering cost, deliverability and compliance with planning policies which will then inform the development of the final masterplan.’

The preferred options for the sites have been identified following extensive work to develop a masterplan for the area which began last February. It involved a six-week consultation on each of the sites last September, where residents were asked to choose between three options for the future development of each site. Masterplan work is being prepared by architect Hulme Upright, and focuses on parts of North Shelton that would benefit from investment, regeneration and contribute to the wider improvement of the area.

The exhibitions will take place at the following venues

  • Rectory Road Community Centre, Sunday 23 May, 1pm ““ 4pm, where an Urdu speaking member of staff will be available.
  • The Ember Lounge, Staffordshire University Student Union, Wednesday 26 May, 1pm ““ 4pm.
  • The Lift Centre, Norfolk Street, Wednesday 16 June, 1 ““ 4pm.
  • The Islamic Centre, Bedford Road, Wednesday 23 June, 1 ““ 4pm, where an Urdu speaking member of staff will be available.