Lighting-up time

It looks like it’s going to be a ‘difficult’ Christmas this year. But at least the Christmas lights are appearing around the town.

(We were full of praise the other day for the decorations inside the Atrium. However, somewhat churlishly we’ll be less fulsome about the lights outside. In some places they’re multi-coloured – albeit the colour scheme seems random. But nearby the lights are just blue – apart from just the occasional interloper. The overall effect is a bit weird.)


A roundabout survey

Paul spotted that the area around the roundabout at the Park Street/Pembroke Broadway junction was being surveyed the other day. It’s undoubtedly a coincidence, but in the last few weeks we’ve mentioned that the stone blocks surrounding the roundabout have been disloged (again) by large vehicles making the tight turn. We’ve also commented on the bent road sign that you can see in Paul’s photo.

Is the survey anything to do with re-aligning the roundabout to make it less difficult to negotiate? We’ll probably never know; usually when we see surveying underway we don’t see anything obvious happening afterwards.

The wheels seem to have come off Jaguar/ Land Rover…

Almost exactly two years ago, approval was given for: “a replacement two storey building for use as car sales with revised vehicular access from Admiralty Way, roof deck parking, ancillary vehicle repairs, office space and valet buildings.” At the time, it was said that the combined dealership and servicing facilities would be for Jaguar/Land Rover, and that the new facility would support 130 full-time jobs.

You’ll know the site. It’s on the corner of the junction between the Blackwater Valley Road and the A30, and it’s surrounded by a white hoarding. Today’s photo shows the site as it is behind that hoarding.

Well, by last month the wind had changed. A further planning application has made it clear that any new building would not be for JLR, but for “an alternative brand of car…which benefits from different margins… [with] a faster turnover”. We interpret that as meaning ‘cheaper’. This seems to be confirmed by the fact that the new application is for an additional floor on the building, with car storage on the first and second storeys, and also on the roof.

It’s not a surprise that JLR are no longer involved. The car market is going through difficult times and JLR has had to tighten its belt.

Town centre – an ‘update’?

In a day’s time, the council’s Executive will be deciding whether to make the latest Authority Monitoring Report available on the council website. The AMR is an annual document which the council is obliged to produce, but which – we guess – virtually no-one reads.

The latest AMR – which is for the year ending March 2020 – covers the whole borough. Two points have a bearing on the town centre:

A number of offices in the centre are being converted into flats. Even though this – unlike many other developments – can be done without providing any affordable accommodation, new housing created in the borough overall during the year still met the target of providing 35% affordable accommodation

Based on consultants’ retail studies of a dozen years or so ago, current council plans anticipate a significant increase in retail floorspace in the town. Of course, this has been unrealistic for ages, but we have never seen the council formally acknowledge the situation before. But now, and we quote, “it is unlikely that significant amounts of new retail floorspace will be delivered”

However, we wonder whether we and the council are on quite the same planet. The AMR records that a new Local Plan is being produced to cover the period up to 2032. The stated NEXT stage will be “Public consultation in June 2018 in preparation for Pre-submission consultation in June 2019.” OK, that might be what the original timescale said – but to state it without any comment in 2020 might be considered to be a little ‘careless’. What’s more, we seem to recall that the yet-to-emerge Local Plan was originally intended to cover the period 2016 – 2032. Maybe the Executive might be tempted to ask why progress has been so slow. It can’t all be blamed on ‘the virus’.

Is the council neglecting its responsibilities?

Searching the internet, it’s not too difficult to find the following: “The prime responsibility for the condition of a building or structure lies with its owner; however, [the local authority] have an obligation under the Building Act 1984 to deal with dangerous structures in its area and if the owner cannot be found or contacted, [the authority] is authorised to do work to make the building or structure safe and recharge the owner its reasonable costs for doing so.”

“The term ‘dangerous structure’ covers not only buildings or parts of buildings ie loose slates or tiles, but also such things as garden walls, fences or HOARDINGS [our emphasis]. In fact, any structure, which could by its condition endanger persons.”

So, why has the borough council failed to act for so long over the dangerous hoarding in Obelisk Way. It can hardly claim that it didn’t know about it – the hoarding is almost certainly visible from the council offices.

We understand why councillors are reluctant to criticise council officers. But when residents could come to harm, maybe it’s time for councillors to stand up and be counted.

Leisure Centre car park

We’re pretty sure that our photos today show the new leisure centre multi-storey car-park at an early stage in its above-ground construction. (It’s not too difficult to deduce that the photos were taken on different days…)

It’s a near-impossible site to photograph at the back. There’s no decent vantage point from which to see everything. We’ve done our best…