Much as I support the Chronicle’s campaign to “Save the Gateway” I find it ironic since they are inadvertently responsible for the fact that Chester does not have any plans for a theatre! The unfortunate series of events started with the Chronicle’s misguided campaign against “The Slug” aka the new council offices on Gorse stacks car park which formed an integral part of the Northgate development. The Conservatives campaigned on the issue in the May 2007 local election. Unfortunately for Chester the Conservatives didn’t see the signs that the boom was about to bust. Hindsight says they should have finalised the contract as soon as possible. The whole house of cards had been laboriously put in position and all that remained to do was to sign the dotted line. This would have meant that part of the billions of pounds given to the banks by the government would have gone the way of Chester. Instead they re-opened negotiations based on cancelling the slug and building the council offices cheaper and somewhere else. In the meantime the credit crunch arrived in the autumn of 2007 effectively killing the deal and leaving us without any prospect of a theatre!
The Conservatives have a point when they say that no-one foresaw the size of the current credit crunch in June 2007 when they were re-opening negotiations on the Northgate scheme but they refuse to take any responsibility for what happened. They insist there was still a planning issue to be resolved but to my knowledge have never been specific about what exactly remained to be done. I had a letter through my door the other day again trying to absolve all blame by saying the scheme was late anyway and their negotiations therefore had no effect on the subsequent collapse of the Northgate plan. Yes the scheme was late but a highly complex deal is not going to be setup overnight. Consultation and planning often takes longer than planned in order to give everyone their say. The finances involved were huge and don’t get approved overnight. The Tories have done some good things since coming to power in May 2007 (i.e. Councillor Tom Parry has been very helpful in recognising the problem of studentification in City ward), but I would respect their position much more if they could just say “Yes, if we could go back in time we would not have campaigned against the slug and would have signed the deal ASAP, however we did campaign on the issue and therefore we were honour bound to re-open negotiations”. I hope the other parties would then accept this graciously and not seek to take advantage, thereby negating any possible chance of future honesty.
The Labour Lib-Dems are also at fault for not getting Conservative support for the scheme during its long planning phase so that after the May election whichever party had won would have signed the deal as soon as possible. What Chester needs is long-term planning and consensus building in order to move forward. What we get is continuous points scoring. The national party system does not work well with local politics and we have seen evidence of it in the demise of the Northgate scheme. I do believe that most of our councillors of all parties want broadly the same thing for Chester and West Cheshire, to make it a place where its citizens can prosper and reach their full potential, the weak are protected, the environment is protected and the council runs as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately the system we have put in place does not produce the behaviours we need to achieve those objectives. The Conservatives have 76% of the seats of the new Cheshire West authority based on winning 49% of the vote. They have will have complete control in founding the new authority and will thus establish it’s ethos and traditions. May I make a plea for the good of West Cheshire that they use this power humbly with consideration for all views and the recognition that they are in this position temporarily (as for all parties in a functioning democracy) for the long term good of the area?