Several years ago, KPI (a Kuwaiti-funded St Modwen front company) bought Farnborough town centre. They have since, with the collusion of Rushmoor Borough Council, laid waste to the town centre. Many good businesses have been driven out of town. The town now resembles a ghost town. The few remaining retailers and small businesses are eking out a precarious economic existence.
KPI submitted plans to the Council to demolish the northern half of the town centre, and replace with a large superstore, a small estate of social housing to be demolished to provide a car park for the superstore.
The Council were only too happy to ignore objections and rubber stamp what was put before them. But what they did not count on was a series of successful legal challenges from local residents, for members of the planning committee to be put before the Standards Board for England for conflict of interest (and to be found guilty), and now the latest blow to their unwanted schemes, referral to a Public Inquiry by the Secretary of State.
It has come as a slap in the face for the councillors to find the town centre redevelopment has been referred by the Secretary of State to a Public Inquiry and fully vindicates the objectors. Had the decision been that of the councillors, they would have done as they always do, rubber-stamp what the developers want. But for once, the councillors have not get their way. A victory for the local community and local retailers.
It is easy to see when an argument is being lost, those on the losing side sink to vilification of their opponents, and if that does not work, resort to threats and intimidation.
Rushmoor have never been able to win the arguments. Everyone bar the councillors and the developers, can see that building a superstore, with its own car park, facing out of the town, is going to kill what little is left of the town.
When the council passed the plans, there was no proper discussion, making their deliberations a farce, a councillor whose ward includes the town centre, was quoted in the local paper as saying 'that's two fingers to the objectors'.
More recently we have had the chairman of the planning committee calling the objectors troublemakers and offering to go to GOSE (Government Office of the South East, agents for the Secretary of State) and tell them to ignore the objectors.
Last week the full council met, to hear (what from their viewpoint) was the bad news the scheme had been referred to the Secretary of State to consider road closures. The nub of their discussion was how could they serve an Asbo on Keith Parkins to prevent him from objecting, as he was causing them trouble.
The council leader Peter Moyle (rumoured to have regular private meetings with the developers) said:
'There is always one person who, in my view, has become a serial objector who makes it a point of principle to object to anything that improves the prospects of this town.
''If it were left to me I would have this guy in court and I would deal with him tomorrow.'
'One thing that’s clear is that he has become a vexatious litigant, hell bent on preventing any form of development in this area.'
'It’s an absolute disgrace that one man can take this council to task for two years and hold up something that we have all agreed on and that the developer wants to get on with.'
Councillor John Mathews, who suggested imposing an Asbo on Keith Parkins to silence him, compared him with a juvenile thug, and said Asbos were not just for dealing with thugs.
This in Borough where local residents on run-down estates are crying out for Asbos to be served on juvenile thugs, but the Council turns a blind eye and claims there is not a problem.
These outbursts show the councillors are desperate, but why are they so desperate, they have never shown any concern for the local retailers, many of whom have either relocated or gone out of business?
But at least we know who they are working with. As does a private letter from Peter Gardner (a senior council official) to councillors in which he said of the Public Inquiry:
'We will continue to work closely with KPI to resolve outstanding matters as quickly as possible ...'
What we have in the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor (as it is known locally) is Stalinist state, where no one is allowed to comment on a planning application, unless their views are in accordance with that dictated by the local council, which means in agreement with any big developer.
Welcome to the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor, where the Council acts for major property developers, not the local community.
Keith Parkins remains defiant:
'What’s interesting is that I’ve actually raised this with local people before and said they [the council] would get so desperate they’d try to get an Antisocial Behaviour Order on me.'
'What they’re saying is that we don’t have a democracy here any more, we have a Stalinist state and if anyone dares oppose a planning application, or in this case a road closure application, they try to gag them.'
'Before anything goes to judicial review, it has to pass muster before a judge. Before it goes to a Public Inquiry, the Secretary of State looks at it to decide whether there are grounds to refer to a Public Inquiry.'
'The Government Office for the South East and the Secretary of State have looked at this and have decided there's a case to answer.'
'I think this is grounds to refer them [the councillors] to the Standards Board.'
What local people fail to understand is why their Council is acting for a developer and not the local community.
It is not only the local council who are trying to intimidate objectors. Keith Parkins has been threatened by a security guard employed by the developer and barred from a shopping centre owned by the developer to prevent him talking to retailers.
Before the Council now is an application to double the weekend flights at Farnborough Airport. More intimidation of objectors?
It is not only members of the public who are being threatened and intimidated by this rotten council.
Peter Sandy, a community activist, who worked hard on behalf of social housing tenants before becoming a Rushmoor councillor, has been repeatedly threatened by the Council chief executive with referral to the Standards Board to shut him up and to try and stop him acting on behalf of the local community. His 'crime', doing his best to act for the local community, and daring to criticise council officials for not doing their jobs.
The Public Inquiry will be held at Rushmoor Borough Council, Tuesday 24 January 2006, starting at 10am. Details from Sophie Manning at GOSE. e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org tel 01483 882936
Prior to the vicious personal attacks on Keith Parkins, two councillors walked out of the council chamber in protest at the falsification of council minutes.
Will your views be welcome on local democracy and treatment of dissent? Or will you too be threatened with an Asbo?
- council chief executive Andrew Lloyd: 01252 398397 email@example.com
- council leader Peter Moyle: 01252 546750 / 01252 546 750 (fax) / 07776 261346 / firstname.lastname@example.org
- John 'sgt-major' Mathews: 01252 548426
Farnborough is not the only town centre St Modwen (parent company of KPI ) is trying to trash. With the help of the local mayor, they are trying to trash the excellent Queens Market in Upton Park. They are also doing their best to destroy the Elephant and Castle shopping centre.
Lindsey Eudo-Mitchell, Town critic's ASBO threat, Farnborough News, 11 November 2005
Mike Lane, Council threatens dissident with ASBO!, Indymedia UK, 30 March 2005
Keith Parkins, More Asbo abuse, Indymedia UK, 25 April 2004
Keith Parkins, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, Indymedia UK, 28 June 2004
Keith Parkins, Delivering the final death blow to Farnborough town centre, Indymedia UK, 2 July 2004
Keith Parkins, Misuse of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, Indymedia UK, 5 July 2004
Keith Parkins, Redevelopment of Farnborough town centre, October 2004
Keith Parkins, Queens Market, Indymedia UK, 11 April 2005
Keith Parkins, Asbo Concern, Indymedia UK, 11 April 2005
Keith Parkins, Rushmoor councillors guilty!, Indymedia UK, 8 November 2005 http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2005/11/327535.html
Keith Parkins, Weekend flights to double at Farnborough?, Indymedia UK, 8 November 2005