Former Preston Mayor Lambasts Vision Board
Members of the Save The Ribble Campaign were amongst the other local residents who attended Preston City Council's 'Central Area Forum' on Thursday 15th March.
We found that our concerns about the undemocratic Vision Board's schemes were shared, not just by residents, but also by some councillors.
Nicola Turner, the City Vision Manager for Preston gave a presentation on the work of the group, revealing the membership of the group that wants to barrage the River Ribble and build 4000 houses in its floodplain to be:
Malcom McVicar (UCLAN)
Jeremy Gorick (Iotech/Liquid Plastics/Flexcrete)
Keith Scott (Retired Architect)
Steve Jackson (New Reg Dot Com)
Khalid Saifullah (ABF Ent)
Alan Roff (PSP)
David Borrow MP
Paul Spooner (English Partnership)
Jim Carr (Preston City Council)
Steve Dean (LCDL)
Jean Hunter (SRBC)
Denis Taylor (Lancashire Economic Partnership)
Ms Turner did not mention millionaire businessman Arif Patel who according to the Lancashire Evening Post, quit his position on the Vision Board in 2004 after the LEP "unearthed the fact that he had pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the council after Lancashire Police's Operation Angel investigation into claims of town hall corruption." According to this report "Membership (of the Vision Board) is by personal recommendation and subsequent agreement by the Vision Board"
The Vision Board are not elected by anybody, yet are making momentous proposals about the future of Preston and about how large sums of public money, and Preston City Council officer's time should be spent.
The group has been in existence since 2003, but they only published the minutes of their meetings, going back to 2003, last week. Some of their documents, according to Nicola Turner cannot be released to the public because they are 'commercially sensitive'.
We have been told many times that the proposals put forward in previous Council/Vision Board documents, which show maps of major housing developments on the green fields, sports grounds and allotments on the South Bank of the Ribble are 'just ideas' and 'blue sky thinking', and that Save The Ribble are 'mischief making' when we draw local people's attention to these images and documents, yet at this meeting we found yet another glossy brochure, bearing the City Council Logo, which shows computer graphics of blocks of flats along the tramway and on the fields opposite both Avenham and Miller Parks (over land currently used by Penwortham Town FC to play football and train local kids).
The document says that 'Key Project Proposals include the development of a barrage across the River providing a range of economic and environmental benefits' It also states that this is an 'Urban Area' contradicting it's introduction where it refers to 'easy access to areas of open countryside'.
Local people's objections to the undemocratic, unrepresentative and secretive nature of the Vision Board were echoed by a local councillor, and former mayor, who lambasted the board for its secrecy and said that he shared residents concerns about the barrage proposals, while Councillor Swindells, another councillor who has publicly declared his opposition to the barrage proposals, said that he had been assured by people at the Environment Agency that any proposals to build housing in the floodplain would be in breach of their policies.
When we asked Nicola Turner why the Vision Board were planning to spend large amounts of money on a feasibility study into the Ribble Barrage proposals, when in 1986 Halcrow had carried out the River Ribble Weir Appraisal into an almost identical set of ideas, which had led the council at the time to dump the ideas as they were impractical and would raise the flood risk to local people, she incredibly said that she had never heard of this study! She went on to say that although she had never heard of it, she was sure that Mike Brogan, her boss, would have read it, probably...
The whole section of the meeting devoted to the 'work' of the Vision Board showed what a secretive shambles is going on, behind closed doors, in a way that is making some local councillors angry and frustrated at their lack of accountability.
Is it 'mischief making' to suggest that the future of our City should be determined by people who are elected and subject to public democratic scrutiny, people who demonstrate a commitment to the well being of local people, not to the wallets of greedy developers and wealthy businessmen?
If the Council and the Vision Board are to maintain any kind of credibility with local people, they should publicly renounce any plans to barrage our river, or to build housing in its floodplain - if they proceed further with these ideas, they will make local people even angrier, and more determined to resist.
Click here for Aidan Turner-Bishop's 28 Questions for the Preston Vision Board