Below, we reproduce the council’s ‘Town Centre Update’ from May 2017. You can just about see in the last line that it forecast that a planning application for the London Road Block would be submitted by the end of that year.
Yet, here we are, it’s now 2019, the council’s preferred developer for the site hasn’t been announced, and we can find no sign of a registered planning application, outline or otherwise. What’s more, the council bought much of the London Road Block in 2016 (or earlier) and there have been no obvious major external events to knock the council’s plan off-course since then. So, who’s responsible for the apparent delay – one that seems to have arisen over such a short period of time? Well, rather to our puzzlement, it seems that the Council Leader must accept that they have failed. Back in April, on Facebook, the Leader said that it was her “responsibility to steer that whole project forward… and deliver it in the timetable that we have…”. Note, ‘deliver it in the timetable’.
To be honest, we were taken aback by that whole statement. Our understanding was that the elected councillors – of which the Leader is one – were chosen by the electorate to represent them, and not because they had any particular professional qualifications. Yet one of them says they’re steering a multi-million pound project. Surely we pay the council staff to do that and to provide the necessary skills?
To confirm our belief that something could be terribly wrong, we’ve looked at what the Local Government Association says about the role of borough councillors. We quote: “A councillor’s primary role is to represent their ward or division and the people who live in it. Councillors provide a bridge between the community and the council. As well as being an advocate for your local residents and signposting them to the right people at the council, you will need to keep them informed about the issues that affect them.” There’s not so much as a hint in that quotation about steering multi-million pound projects. (If you want to read the full LGA article about the role of councillors, you’ll find it here: https://bit.ly/2zFpv1w)
But there are two sides to this. One, a councillor who seems to be taking on far more responsibility than they should, and, the other, a paid council that seems to be willing to allow this to happen. Doesn’t this suggest that the whole organisation – councillors and paid council staff – has completely lost its way?