Stoke-on-Trent ““ Sorry Merv, I Agree With Mathew!

The Managing Director of one of Stoke-on-Trent’s success stories and prized assets Emma Bridgewater, has likened the City to a wasteland and “disaster zone” comparable to London in the 1950s following World War II.

In an article in today’s Telegraph, Matthew Rice criticised Stoke-on-Trent City Council for knocking down historic buildings and former factories instead of using them as a part of the regeneration programme.

As a result of what he describes as the City Council’s feckless planning, the city has been left to resemble Helmund Province in Afghanistan.

“We have got to put building conservation at the head of regeneration and stop demolishing,”

“We have a city here know so well for its industrial past that is has a whole area, the Potteries, named after it.

“The buildings, the factories, the terraced houses; they are the building blocks of the city and represent the inheritance of the people who live and work there, their parents, their grandparents.

“These are the cultural anchors which we need to hang on to whilst regeneration takes place.

“Lose the factories, the civic buildings, the churches and the brick terraces that make up our built environment and we jeopardise the survival of the city itself.”

“If you go around Stoke these days there is lots of bare land where things have been demolished. I’ve no idea what it looks like in Helmand Province but I get a feeling it would look a little like here.

“There is always this idea that we have got to demolish everything to put things right. A blank canvas they call it. But I’d rather see people use the buildings in regeneration and development.”

Mr Rice’s comments seem to have put Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s nose slightly out of joint.

Mervin Smith, Stoke-on-Trent City Council spokesman for city development, responded by dismissing Matthew Rice’s comments.

“Serious regeneration of any city takes more than a couple of years. We have seen this with Birmingham and Manchester for example. Significant projects have already been delivered, such as the new state-of-the-art Sixth Form College and the City Waterside development, amongst others, with work due to start on the new bus station next year and the East West precinct in 2012.

“We are indeed proud of our ceramics heritage which is evidenced by the banners which decorate the Potteries Way, celebrating pride in our local companies, the restoration of surviving bottle ovens and most importantly the biennial celebrating Stoke-on-Trent as the world capital of excellence in ceramics.

“The city council has worked closely with local ceramics businesses, including Emma Bridgewater Ltd, and are disappointed at the attitude expressed by Matthew Rice. He is perfectly entitled to his opinion, which we respect but cannot agree with.”

I think that Mervin Smith has completely missed the point of Matthew Rice’s comments.

I don’t think for a minute that Mr Rice is questioning particular projects, I think he is merely pointing out that the strategy behind our regeneration project is completely flawed and I, for what it’s worth, am in complete agreement with him.

Over recent years we have seen the demolition of countless dwellings and historic factory building that have been replace by absolutely nothing.

The gateways to the various towns that make up our unique City have more holes in them then a 5000 piece jigsaw with half the pieces missing.

No one at our City Council should try and defend the balls up that have been described as regeneration in this city.
We have had to return money that has not been spent for goodness sake.

Don’t even get me started on the debacle of the business district that was fundamentally flawed and only pulled when our new Chief Executive had the wherewithal to admit that after our council had spent some £1.5million, it was never going to work.

The changes in the top layer of the Regeneration Directorate tell us the public that our new CEO was sufficiently concerned about the performance and results to take the bull by the horns and attempt to restructure what was becoming a joke to all who take interest in the socioeconomic development of our city.

Emma Bridgewater is a beacon of hope in a City that has all but lost our traditional and proud industrial heritage and I think the Cabinet Member with responsibility for regeneration would do best to listen and draw inspiration from one of the few examples of success and trend bucking.

The governments Comprehensive Spending Review [CSR] set out very clearly that money for regeneration is going to be very hard to come by indeed.

The formation of the Local Enterprise Partnership [LEP] will see us go toe to toe with Staffordshire County Council for any mere morsel of cash to regenerate over the next 4 years.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council need to form a partnership with people like Matthew Rice from industry and with politicians like Tristram Hunt to help develop and enhance the prospects for Stoke-on-Trent PLC.

Mervin Smith graciously conceded that Matthew Rice was entitled to his opinion, but he made it abundantly clear that his opinion would be dismissed.

What a shame, another opportunity to take an out of the box progressive look at the strategic way that we we deliver [or do not as the case may be in the next few years] the true regeneration of the City of Stoke-on-Trent lost because someone dares to voice an opinion that the City Council may be getting it slightly wrong.

I pity John van de Laarschot if his senior politicians do not have the insight to explore and change direction due to the failings of the past and the catastrophic impact that government cuts will have on the development and regeneration.

We really are doomed to failure if we dismiss the opinions and ignore the obvious skills of entrepreneurs like Matthew Rice and the sympathetic view on heritage and conservation of the Likes of Tristram Hunt MP.

Come on Mervin and the rest of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, get a grip for god’s sake.

Matthew Rice has written a book called The Lost City of Stoke, which was inspired by a visit to the Church of the Sacred Heart in Tunstall in 2008.

Follow the link below to find out more and to to purchase it.

I have a copy and in my humble opinion it will make a great Christmas present.