Preston's Vision Unchanged? Reasons To Be VERY Concerned...
Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy messing about by the Ribble...
Following the overhaul of Preston Vision Board in recent months, the "new" restructured Board reveals the same kind of business-orientated line-up as previously and now includes a "planning expert" from Manchester... This suggests the same purely economic focus as previously - and the same dismissal of small matters such as local feeling, democratic accountability, and environmentally sustainable development.
The only real difference is that now the Preston Vision Board is a Limited Company with POWERS TO ACTIVELY DELIVER THEIR VISION FOR PRESTON.
Ian Haythornthwaite, the North West Development Agency's Executive Director of Resources (who will also be joining the Board of the new Company) states:
“The new company is an evolution for Preston Vision from visioning and strategy to a focus on delivery. Building on the opportunities provided by the Tithebarn and Preston Guild, we hope that this development will spearhead a step change that will enable the city to realise its ambitions, capitalising on its potential as an important driver of regional economic growth.”
So leaving aside the Tithebarn controversy, which is discussed on the Preston Lancs forum and the Preston Blog, this means that previous concerns that local people have had that the Preston Vision Board has no democratic accountability still holds firm, and is potentially even less accountable to the people of Preston - & South Ribble - as it is now a Limited Company.
This is because, whilst Preston and South Ribble Councils have "the statutory power to participate in the company Preston Vision Limited" as Directors, the Legal obligations that those Council representatives will have include that the "Directors of the new company have a responsibility at first instance to act in the best interests of the company at all times even if they are representatives of the Council".
From http://egenda.southribble.gov.uk/akssribble/images/att878.doc - South Ribble Borough Council's document on accepting the invitation to join the new Vision Board).
The new Preston Vision Board includes "Ged Fitzgerald, chief executive of Lancashire County Council; County Councillor Tom Burns, cabinet member for organisational development; Jim Carr, chief executive of Preston City Council; Councillor Ken Hudson, leader of Preston City Council;... Jean Hunter, chief executive of South Ribble Council and Councillor Margaret Smith, leader of South Ribble Council on the board of directors".
The new Preston Vision Board Ltd's objects are apparently:
“to assist, promote, encourage, develop and secure the social, physical, economic, environmental and educational related development of the Preston City Centre areas and the gateways, for the benefit of all the people of Preston and surrounding area”.
In order to achieve these objects, the NWDA wants to "commit to a programme of funding and allow the Vision Board flexibility in prioritisation. In turn the Vision Board would be able to give greater assurance to project sponsors / deliverers as to the likely availability of funding... and, in working with the NWDA, develop a greater role in delivering projects that is fully transparent and that can deliver an ambitious investment programme."
As Preston Vision Board have their own agenda (some key aspects of which we'll come back to in a minute) where does this leave our Councils' obligations to listen to their local residents wishes?
But of course, Preston Council are no longer pursuing the Riverworks barrage so why should those of us concerned to protect the River Ribble, its riverbanks, green spaces and floodplains be concerned?
Two reasons to be VERY concerned:
1) Preston Vision Board are now a Limited Company and can actively pursue whatever schemes they come up with (with or without the Council's backing) - and - oh look - the recent job application for a new Chief Executive of Preston Vision Board states that:
the new Chief's responsibilities will include "Proposals to regenerate under utilised waterways and make better use of the river, canal and former docklands"... (& see PCC's website for the same advert).
As we know, the last major statement from Preston Vision Board last year stated their intention of pursuing riverside development on the Ribble's banks "with or without a barrage"...
So Preston Vision Board still have their eyes firmly on developing the River Ribble...
2) Preston City Council may well have removed the Riverworks brochure from their website and stated publicly that the Ribble barrage will not be pursued, but - oh look - the NEW, yes NEW Preston City Council webpages state their "Regeneration priorities":
The City Council is actively engaged with local strategic partners to drive the development and delivery of Preston’s ‘Third City Vision’. This includes key projects such as ...
Proposals, totalling £800 million, to regenerate under-utilised waterways and make better use of the river, canal and former docklands."
And in case you think this might NOT somehow be Riverworks by another name... recognise the £800 million figure? The old Riverworks brochure in 2005 and PCC's newsletter right back in 2007 states there is "An £800 million vision for the Riverworks scheme...to create jobs, homes, leisure facilities and a city park, centred on the river ..."
The NEW, updated Preston Council website also states that the "Strategic context" for this "regeneration" of the "under-utilised" river includes the Preston Economic Regeneration Strategy – 2005.
Remember PCC's Economic Regeneration Strategy? The new PCC webpage links straight to it.
The Economic Regeneration Strategy & Prioritised Action Plan states that:
"Riverworks is an essential component of the overall Strategy. It provides a focus upon the areas of greatest potential impact through targeted investment and development strategies.
These areas include the River Ribble, Riversway Docklands and the Lancaster Canal:
Quality Riverside – Instead of the City ‘turning its back’ on the River, the Ribble will form the heart of future planning of the Preston-South Ribble urban area. Key projects include the development of a barrage across the River providing a range of economic and environmental benefits and the development of a new ‘Central Park’ with associated residential development" (p7).
So Preston City Council STILL seem to be pursuing Riverworks.
Even though they appear to have dropped the name from their website, the project itself is still there, alive and kicking - on their main website itself and on all the strategic documents PCC claim are forming their prioritised regeneration strategy...
In other words, the River Ribble is clearly still very much a part of both Preston Council's and Preston Vision Board Ltd's agenda, from barrages to building developments... which can only be BAD NEWS for the Ribble's delicate intertidal ecosystem, riverbank habitats, fields, meadows and woodlands...
And what does this mean for local democracy? The Lancashire Evening Post's survey in 2007 showed that an overwhelming 74% of local residents are opposed to a Ribble barrage.
South Ribble Borough Council have so far listened to the concerns of local people, declaring the South Ribble riverbanks protected from development in 2008, and also designating the Penwortham floodplain a protected Country Park.
Preston Council also publicly "backed down" and declared they will not be pursuing the Ribble barrage, but they appear to be prioritising some scheme or other to "regenerate" what they insultingly call an "underutilised" river, and directly assert that this scheme is underpinned by strategies which clearly prioritise a Ribble barrage and associated building developments...
So who are Preston City Council and Preston Vision Board Ltd listening to...?
...and how can we be sure that our Councils will be able to act in OUR interests if the "Directors of the new company have a responsibility at first instance to act in the best interests of the company at all times even if they are representatives of the Council"...?
See also local blog River's Stream for comments on the new Preston Vision Board...
You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org