You can click on the letter to enlarge it...
In his letter, sent to the Lancashire Evening Post this week, Jack Davenport sets out his concerns that:
'The proposals outlined seem to make a move towards greater private sector control, with the council being reduced to a mere consultative role. They will weaken the already poor "partnership" and undermine the public's faith in democratic representation'.
Further, Councillor Davenport is concerned that 'developments in Preston' should be 'guided by public, not private sector need', arguing that 'Only the council, as a democratically representative body, has the authority to make that judgment', and pointing out that this authority is granted 'not by private business or interest, but by the people of this city'.
Councillor Davenport concludes his letter by arguing that 'Reorganisation of the Vision Board should involve major reform, accountability and control so that if the council says "jump", the Vision Board asks "how high?".'
We wholeheartedly share Jack Davenport's concerns on this issue, particularly in view of the Chairman of the Vision Board Malcolm McVicar's comments made last week in response to the proposed reorganisation of the Vision Board to include the Leaders of Preston and South Ribble councils that:
"Having council leaders on board is a good thing" but "It's my responsibility as chairman to make sure it doesn't slow the process" !!!
Whilst we agree with the moves to make Preston Vision Board more democratically accountable, which were kick-started by Councillor Bhikhu Patel earlier this summer, the concerns raised by Jack Davenport are only half the story:
Local residents are equally concerned about the Vision currently being pursued by Preston City Council itself, as there appears to be equal enthusiasm for the Ribble barrage and the Penwortham green belt/floodplain development proposals amongst the ruling majority on Preston City Council as there is on the Vision Board.
As part of this, local residents and a number of Councillors are deeply concerned about Preston Council's recent vote to remove decisions regarding large funding bids - such as for Riverworks - from the full scrutiny and democratic accountability of full council chamber and into a select City Centre Committee.
As such, questions of democratic accountability extend far beyond the Vision Board and into the Council itself.
So far we have seen no serious consultation of local people undertaken by this council regarding the Riverworks Barrage and floodplain development proposals.
When representatives from Save The Ribble Campaign finally managed to meet with Chief Executive Jim Carr and the officer with responsibility for the Riverworks scheme, Mike Brogan, this summer:
- We were assured that we would be consulted about the brief for the consultancy of the feasibility study funding bid the council are planning to submit to the North West Development Agency this financial year - BUT WE WERE NOT ASSURED THAT LOCAL PEOPLE WOULD BE CONSULTED ABOUT WHETHER THE BID WOULD GO AHEAD IN THE FIRST PLACE - DESPITE THE OVERWHELMING EVIDENCE THAT LOCAL PEOPLE DON'T WANT THE BARRAGE!
- We had an interesting discussion about the many alternative ideas which local people have had to make the most of our river and green spaces without damaging these vital local assets, but THE COUNCIL DIRECTLY REFUSED TO CONSIDER PURSUING THESE ALTERNATIVE PROPOSALS INSTEAD - although they are quite happy to use these ideas 'as a contributor to help shape future development options' - in other words, use them to "green-up" the barrage and housing development proposals;
- No opportunity was given at the meeting to discuss the real concerns of local people and numerous environmental organisations about the environmental impacts of the barrage and floodplain development schemes, but we were assured that "THE COUNCIL WOULD NOT WISH TO PROCEED BEYOND THE STUDY IF THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT WAS AS IRRETRIEVABLY ADVERSE AS SOME ARE PREDICTING"!!!
If the council are prepared to accept environmental impact up to the point of irretrievable damage, then they are clearly more than happy to accept a huge amount of damage, pushing the Ribble's entire ecosystem almost to the point of irretrievable collapse!
On a related note, we see with interest the Lancashire Evening Post's report that a number of prominent Preston Council officers are leaving for pastures new, and the Chief Executive of the council, Jim Carr, has claimed that some may not be replaced...
One of the leaving party is Nicola Turner, who fronts the Preston City Vision and represents both Preston City Council and the Vision Board on the Riverworks project, so we wonder whether her vacant post will be filled...?
Whilst we wave goodbye to Nicola as she heads off to Stockport to become project director for the town centre "masterplan" - which has '£500 million redevelopment of the city centre' planned 'in a deal with Australian development firm Lend Lease' (LEP 18.9.07), we are left with our own experience of Nicola Turner that she was at least prepared to come to Broadgate and give a presentation to local people about the Ribble Barrage and floodplain Housing ideas contained in the Riverworks Proposals, while those men who were responsible for coming up with these ideas in the first place were content to stay hidden away at the Town Hall, leaving her to face the public's anger on her own...
Mind you, she was also unable to answer the many important questions local people asked her, so the glossy and wholly one-sided presentation was rather limited in terms of real information.
We watch and wait...