Keith Parkins | 16.10.2003 14:14
Five years or so ago, KPI, a Kuwaiti-financed, ST Modwen front company, bought much of Farnborough town centre, lock stock and barrel. Since then, with the active collusion of the Council, they have laid waste to the town. Where we once had retailers who were able to make a living, most have since relocated or gone into bankruptcy or simply closed their doors for the last time. Year on year retailers are seeing takings and profits fall. Two eyesores have been erected, which have taken public space, in the meantime we have lost most of our independent traders, including a computer shop, art and photographic shops, and the last remaining butcher and baker.
The next phase is to demolish the northern half of the town centre, and replace the existing retail units with a superstore. Social housing of 28-maisonettes, arranged around a 'village green', are earmarked for demolition for a car park for the unwanted superstore.
11 November 2002, the council were 'minded to grant outline planning permission', 7 July 2003 'outline planning permission' was granted – granted by the head of planning and chairman of the planning committee meeting in secret session behind closed doors. Not until 1 October 2003, was the planning committee informed of their decision. Affected parties have yet to be notified.
In the meantime, application has been made by the developers to the Secretary of State for permanent closure of several highways (Stopping-up Orders). The developers did not have the courtesy or decency to inform their own retail tenant of this application, even though they will be severely affected. When members of the public attempted to inform retailers by means of the official Notice and map showing affected roads (not mentioned on the Notice) the developers threatened to have them barred from the town centre.
There has been no consultation, no public meetings to determine what retailers and the local community want for their town centre.
At every stage, the Council at every level, has colluded with the developers and given them everything they want.
It is now proposed to serve compulsory purchase orders on remaining retailers to clear the way for the developers.
A report drawn up by the Borough Solicitor on behalf of the developers was presented to the cabinet Tuesday 14 October 2003. It was presented by the borough chief executive, which shows the importance given to clearing the way.
He started by telling the cabinet that he and the deputy leader had earlier had discussions with KPI's chief executive on the way forward. Almost as an afterthought letters had been sent out earlier in the day to affected parties. Apparently these letters were received a couple of hours before the meeting.
In unison, the cabinet all sang from the same KPI hymn sheet, the redevelopment was wanted by everyone in the town, that it would bring in Hight Street names and that even everyone in Aldershot wanted the development. And in case those who were to be served CPOs were worried, the Council was there to help! Anyone who stood in the way would be kicked to one side. One idiot even attacked the public, and went so far as to claim they had gone out of their way, well beyond the call of duty, to consult!
The reality is that no-one want the redevelopment, apart from the developers and their supporters, there has been no consultation, and it is to stretch incredulity to the limit to claim it is wanted by the people of Aldershot as they don't give a damn what is happening in Farnborough, and the feeling is mutual. High Street names are unlikely to move into a town with no shoppers, and what local people want is a mix, but especially good independent stores. As for the Council being there to help, this is a bit like the mafia offering to take you for a ride. Any negotiations are going to be entirely one sided as one party to the negotiations has a gun to their head.
The Council is the planning authority. Any planning application has be dealt with impartially and on its own individual merit. To date the developers have outline planning consent only. In offering to serve CPOs for a development that has yet to receive full planning consent, the Council has prejudged the application.
Any official body has to consider the impact on human rights of its decisions. Failure to do so is an offence under the Human Rights Act. Human rights were not even mentioned, let alone discussed.
Firgrove Court, apart from four maisonettes where the former tenants exercised the right to buy, is owned by Pavilion Housing Association. Pavilion are doing their best to force out their their tenants, so the land can be sold to the developers. If this fails, Rushmoor will serve CPOs on Pavilion, so that the developers get what they want.
The cabinet did little more than rubber stamp a request for CPOs on behalf of a developer. The needs and interests of the local community count for nothing.
The contempt for the local community was clear in comments to the press before the cabinet met. Deputy leader of the Council dismissed criticism from retailers as 'hearsay'. It would not be 'hearsay' if there was a genuine attempt to find out what the local community wants. The chief executive criticised local people for holding the developers to ransom for millions of pounds. No one is. All people are seeking is a fair price and reasonable compensation. On the other hand it is okay to collude with a developers to maximise the millions of pounds profit they expect to make. The social housing tenants, those that is with any security of tenure, the rest are simply being served Notice to Quit, are being offered £1500 compensation, less if they make a fuss!
It will take some time to draw up the CPOs. These then go to the Secretary of State (in reality GOSE). If there are at this stage objections, it may force a Public Inquiry. The last thing either the Council or developers want is a PI.
Questions are being asked by local people. Why is their Council acting for a bunch of Arab investors and a property company, not the local community? What was once a murmur, the accusation that the Council is corrupt, is becoming increasingly vocal.
Farnborough town centre, BVEJ Newsletter, October 2003
Lisa Millar, You'll have to go eventually, Farnborough News, 17 October 2003
Outrage over compulsory purchase order, Farnborough Mail, 14 October 2003
Keith Parkins, Trashing of Farnborough Town Centre, Indymedia UK, 11 November 2002
Keith Parkins, Trashing of Farnborough Town Centre, Indymedia UK, 14 November 2002
Keith Parkins, Farnborough town centre, Indymedia UK, 8 September 2003
Natasha Rawlingson Plant, Traders fear being evicted, Farnborough News, 10 October 2003
Rushmoor Cabinet, Agenda, 14 October 2003
The Queensmead Farnborough Hampshire Compulsory Purchase Order 2003, RBC, 14 October 2003