different kettle of fish

Tucked away on the Lancashire Evening Post website is an update on the campaign by market traders against plans to turf them out onto the street.

Whilst the body text is the usual mix of market traders outrage and Council platitudes, the interesting content fills the comment section underneath. Now I know more than most that comment sections can be filled with all manner of outrage, cynicism and distrust. However in this article, someone using the pseudonym ‘turtle dove’  has dropped all manner of hints and heavy allegations which a number of other users, me included, suggest form the latest attempt by Preston Council to ‘fix’ any consultation in their favour.

Backstory is pretty simple. Having lost the Tithebarn regeneration scheme by virtue of the economic collapse and nobody supporting it, Preston Council has been desperately trying to chase a flashed ankle regardless of the state of the person connected to it. There is still talk of a Metrolink style tram system which would connect (un)willing passengers between Deepdale and an industrial estate, a multi-million pound shuttle service which is already covered by numerous buses.

I need not go into the attempts to demolish Preston’s bus station, other than to note that the rumoured cost of improving the place has shot up with every panicked press release from Town Hall, with the additional lie (for it is a lie) that the 1,100 car parking places are under threat from concrete cancer.

The Fish market controversy is ‘classic’ Preston Council. Having faked a consultation exercise, stage two is thinly veiled blackmail. The covered market is popular, always busy and has a community spirit amongst those people for whom the stalls are their living. Preston Council’s latest wheeze is to evacuate the Markets for no good reason outside vague plans to ‘regenerate’ an area left to rot (by Preston Council) whilst Tithebarn distracted them. To persuade traders to leave the covered market for the uncovered streets, the Council has failed to outline exactly why, without any prior warning, the market building is no longer ‘fit for purpose’.

This is where ‘turtle dove’ comes in, spreading all manner of accusations for which there seems to be no independent source for his claims.

These are, in no apparent order:

They don’t say an additional 6 million pounds capital investment needs to spent on the market just to keep it open. That is the heavy burden council tax payers will have to shoulder if it is kept open. If you support keeping the market hall open then you need to be aware of the full financial implications.

And

They don’t say that the market could close tomorrow because of problems with the ventilation or wiring or the escalator. don’t say it nearly closed last year because of vermin – problems which the traders haven’t addressed.

And also

The traders are business people and are playing poker with council in an attempt to get a better deal when they transfer

And additionally

The market traders are telling the whole story. They don’t say that the Council subsidises them to the tune of £76,000 per year. Their service charge has been frozen since 1996. 

This ‘drip drip’ approach of ‘truth’ reminds me of the constant, unfounded and ultimately useless propaganda used by the Council against the Bus Station. Costs to improve the station – the largest of its kind in Britain – went up from £2m to £5m in response to constantly favourable polls in the LEP and elsewhere. The more people joined campaigns to save the station, the higher the costs, until the ruling Labour Group chose the week after local elections this year to essentially confirm its demolition next year, when there are no local elections, in face of massive opposition.

Now it’s the turn of the covered market, which is suddenly beyond all help and repair, just as the Council realises that there’s no support for their policy. Market traders in other northern towns are not given this roughshod treatment, leaving Preston isolated as the only major population centre in the region for whom at least two landmarks are considered only good enough for scrap and selling.

If Preston Council really did listen to its citizens – the ‘your city, your say’ shambles has been kicked into long grass – they’d soon learn to leave both Market and Bus Station alone. But if ‘turtle dove’ is right, and there’s all sorts of secrets we don’t know about gathering dust on Town Hall shelves, how do we even try to fight back?

 

 

 

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Supermarket Creep

Within the boundaries of Preston, the phrase “Tithebarn Project” is something of a shibboleth. Not sure how many thousands will fall at the banks of the Ribble, although if any further delay is suffered by the scheme I dare suggest there will be a queue lining up to voluntarily plunge off the Old Tram Bridge.

At the centre of the on-going regeneration plans, now juddering into their seventh or eighth year of troubled growing pains, is the destruction of Preston Bus Station and its replacement by department store John Lewis. The argument against the former, and for that matter very much against the latter, has been repeated so often I think my fingers would break themselves rather than repeat the points made so many times; I will only say that such a move would be one of the least progressive steps in local government since the dawn of time. Or even before that.

Something resembling a curveball hit the Town Hall collection of 3D models and computer diagrams of “Prestanchester” yesterday with the £230 plan to finally do something about the dire transport system here. Okay, it’s an aspiration (like most things in Preston, there is many a “vision” for the future), and how sad to think it’s matching pretty much what everyone has considered good for the place for generations. In 1972 journalists filled the LEP with “visions” of the subsequent 1992 Guild being opened by monorails and skywalks. We’re barely one step closer to that in the second decade of the 21st century. It’s almost enough to be quite depressing.

Preston should not be forced into changing into a mini-Manchester over night. The new flashy apartments thrown up since city status show all the signs of hasty profit chasing. Their balconies resemble old chip-pan baskets.

Our Town Hall luminaries – elected and otherwise – ignore long-term needs for short-term headlines. Commuters in northern Preston are forced to leave for work at half-6 to attempt avoiding the logjams on the main routes, all of which could have been resolved had small railway stations or tram lines been installed twenty or thirty years ago. We’re playing catch-up because Preston has been strangled by politics and politicians for too long.

Instead of progress, we’re having to chase profit. John Lewis will be the great consumerist icon for the City Councillors who prefer to hear the ringing of tills over the pinging of bus bells. And who would have it any other way? A wise old Councillor reminded me with a heavy sigh, “Railway stations don’t pay council tax”

I hope – beyond all reason – that the tram system proposal is successful. I am also crossing my fingers in hope – beyond all sense – that the 20th Century Society is able to preserve Preston Bus Station for the benefit of all Prestonians.

I realise – with Lancastrian realism – that all this hope will come to nothing. Our Councillors want regeneration to mean more shops, cafes, expensive apartments and “visions”. For the city with its Ring Road built right through the middle of the main shopping street, it all seems pretty appropriate.