WNDC – Northampton’s Future?
Should we trust regeneration of Northampton to politicians?
Over the past month or so Northampton has been deluged with press releases and announcement after announcement about the regeneration plans for Northampton from the interactive Northampton Alive, the Grosvenor Centre redevelopment (version 3,4 or ??), St Johns Car Park, New University at Avon Nunn Mills, Rail Station Redevelopment, New Bus Station the demolition of Grey Friars and the Northampton Waterside Enterprise Zone which is going to bring 600 jobs by March next year and 12,000 over the next 3 years.
The uncharitable thought of many people is ‘Oh no not again’ and that in the modern world of PR politics the immediate reaction having ‘cocked up’ something else is that politicians feel the need to make large and grandiose announcements if for nothing else it focuses the media in another direction.
The problem many people and especially the residents of Northampton have is that the announcements and promises by the Borough Council Conservatives have been made so often under the banner of “Look what we have achieved” without any discernible progress.
Credit should always go to those who have actually delivered progress which is why it is important to look carefully at what has been achieved and separate it from the political posturing for which the Borough Council administration is now well-known.
Which brings me to the West Northamptonshire Development Corporation, the WNDC who there is no doubt having given it Planning Powers as well as the ‘Delivery’ responsibility led to it not only being unfairly maligned but affected its ability to deliver major projects in Northampton because of the political machinations at the time.
In fact it was the proverbial easy target for anyone who wanted to cause mischief and an organisation that could all too easily be used as a scapegoat by politicians from all sides.
With planning powers now back where they should be with the Local Authority planning committees made up of all party elected councillors who can be held accountable for their decisions by the residents and electorate of Northampton things have changed.
Since relinquishing their planning powers the WNDC has really started to deliver as you would expect from a highly professional organisation and who have not only ensured the Ransome Road junction improvements but without who the funding for regeneration of the Rail Station and new Bus Interchange would not have happened.
It is the WNDC who have carried out the difficult negotiations over the Gas Holder site in the centre of Northampton and who are working to secure the land in the in the Enterprise Zone for the development and provision of 12,000 jobs work that includes obtaining the land for a new University.
In comparison of course we have seen the projects that are being overseen by the Borough and County Council founder on rocks of inactivity, incompetence and a lack of political will and credibility.
You only have to look at the regeneration of the town centre and the Grosvenor Centre to recognise that the last people who should be trusted to deliver are the Conservative administrations at County Hall and the Guildhall.
This may be and will no doubt be portrayed by the Conservatives as an attack on the excellent and professional planning and regeneration staff who work for the County and Borough Councils, far from it.
It wasn’t the professionals the senior management of Legal and General were talking about when they stopped the planning of the Grosvenor Development earlier in the year.
The statement that it had stopped progress because of ‘A lack of support from the Borough Council in recent times’ was very clearly directed at the lack of political will.
The recent announcement from the County Council that they are going ahead with developing plans for a brand new office block in Angel Street to bring 2,000 County Council employees back into the town centre is of course welcome.
Details of such a move are at present scarce and it will be interesting to see how the County Council Conservative administration will fund the project of over £43 million. How they will address the issue of access and changes to listed buildings to allow the building to happen. How and who will provide the 600 car parking spaces that it is estimated the staff will require. These are amongst only a number of questions that will need to be answered, along with the biggest question of all, does the business case add up.
It will also be interesting after the County Councils furore, even though they agreed it, over the Central Library site development that is planned to allow the County Council as the responsible authority to build the new bus station on the Fishmarket site what they will do with the site.
This is also on top of the major infrastructure projects that will be needed to support the West Northamptonshire Core Strategy to build 50,000 homes in and around Northampton which in recent information has a funding gap of nearly £500 million.
The comparison between the professional organisation of the WNDC and the two Councils is stark, the former delivering and more importantly understanding and knowing what is needed to deliver major regeneration projects and the latter delivering only plans, promises and excuses.
So the question is should we entrust the regeneration of Northampton to a professional organisation, the WNDC or to the Conservative administrations who are currently in control of the County and Borough and who have patently failed to deliver.
I would argue that the role of the politicians is to provide the strategy for the regeneration of Northampton, scrutinise through the planning process what is being offered and leave it to the professionals to deliver.
In other words should the Northampton Borough Council and the Northamptonshire County Council Conservatives, if they really do have the interest of the people of Northampton at heart ask their friends in Westminster to extend the life of the WNDC to allow it to deliver the major infrastructure and regeneration projects needed to revive Northampton?
My personal view is that providing the WNDC is subject to delivering the strategy and projects agreed with the Borough and County Council we should be asking the Government to extend the WNDC and let’s be honest does anyone really think that the WNDC would have made as big a mess of delivering the Grosvenor Centre as politicians have over the past 10 years?