Letters to the editor February 24, 2011

Process is not about politics

I AM writing, as North Somerset Council’s lead officer for the Tropicana redevelopment, in response to last week’s front page coverage (Trop as election pawn?) and letter coverage, in order to clarify the process and current position.

Firstly, I can assure readers that the process is not about politics. It is about business economics - working with the private sector to devise a scheme for the redevelopment of the Tropicana which is both feasible and viable commercially without relying on taxpayer subsidy.

Mr May and others have commented on the EU procurement process. The EU rules govern all public bodies and are designed to ensure open and fair competition across member states. However, like many good government ideas they have been translated into rules that are inflexible and cumbersome, being widely criticised by public bodies and contractors alike. They are, however, the law and the council has no option but to abide by them.

In the case of the Tropicana, the ‘rules’ are simple. Schemes must meet the criteria set by the council when it advertised the site - in this case to provide a pool for public use and to be commercially viable without taxpayer subsidy. The council must stick to these criteria throughout the process or risk challenge or financial claims from other potential bidders - at a cost to North Somerset taxpayers.


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The Nightingale Group vision is bold and exciting. The council wants to see the ideas developed into a viable and feasible scheme and has granted the Group exclusive rights to do that. This, we believe, will simplify and speed up the process.

Bids are commercially confidential, to protect bidders, and this limits what I can say about current proposals. However, as Mr Nightingale has shared his parking proposal with the Mercury, I can confirm that our view is that the proposals for dealing with parking require further work before they could be accepted by the council.

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The recent public exhibition demonstrated overwhelming public support for redevelopment but there were some concerns voiced about parking, and it is important that, between the Nightingale Group and the council, we get this right. A successful scheme will attract many more visitors to the seafront and there must be adequate provision for parking.

As we currently understand it, the Nightingale Group proposal is for the council to pass control of all seafront parking to the Group and its operators, and for capacity to be increased by the removal of yellow line restrictions on Beach Road. These proposals clearly need further debate and a key issue is how local taxpayers would be compensated for the transfer to a private company of the revenues from seafront parking.

We are committed to working with the Nightingale Group to attempt to find a mutually-acceptable solution that enables the scheme to progress swiftly, and I have invited Mr Nightingale to a meeting early next week to put our heads together to try to find a solution that is both feasible and meets the EU rule requirements.

Now that the Nightingale Group has got this far and has exclusivity, elected members and officers would be pleased to set up a task force, as we did for the Grand Pier rebuild, to include outside agencies such as English Heritage and the Environment Agency to speed things along.

We all want him to succeed and we will do everything legally possible to achieve this. This has been the spirit of discussions up to now and the council will continue to support his efforts to sign up tenants and to enter a planning application as soon as possible.

PHIL HALL

Director of Finance and Resources,

North Somerset Council,

Town Hall, Weston

Kerfuffle will add to their woes

THE cat’s out of the bag. Of course the council’s grant of ‘exclusive rights’ to Mr Nightingale is a political ploy to keep the Tropicana saga ticking on past the May elections.

The Conservative leaders are coming under fire from the hitherto lethargic Weston Tories who realise a Tropicana kerfuffle between now and May will add tremendously to their woes.

But, let’s look at facts rather than political opportunism and the plethora of coincidentally similar letters from Mr Nightingale’s fan club. What exactly is on offer?

The opportunity to develop the Tropicana has been trawled throughout Europe. Not a single developer, finance company, bank or leisure industry operator has shown interest. A small Wiltshire-based company with apparent difficulties in Torbay has now pulled out, leaving Nightingale as sole interested party and the council comes up with the sop of offering him ‘exclusive’ rights. Come off it - what else could a single interested party be other than exclusive?

I have looked for plans of what’s on offer and found none. The so-called display in the Sovereign Shopping Centre was nothing more than a few boards with colourful artwork. There were no elevations, no understanding of spatial concept and a few paragraphs of wishful thinking which could have been constructed by any mediocre PR company. Where’s the business model? How high will this thing be? What will be the mass effect? The Grand Pier pavilion is big - but that’s out on the end of a jetty where its bulk is offset by distance and the bay.

When a landowner puts something out to tender the constraints are obvious in terms of expectation and curtilage. Mr Nightingale has deliberately chosen to go beyond the bounds of the current Tropicana and thereby, in any other tendering process would have ruled himself out of the game. Not so here. How very strange. He now talks of needing dedicated beach parking. Was this part of the original concept? Inclusion of ‘holiday accommodation’ means what?

Where are the letters of support from local entrepreneurs and the business community, from the hoteliers and restaurateurs, from the coach operators and holiday companies? Might any conclusion be drawn from their silence? Our MP, who normally writes intelligently, adds to the political nonsense by claiming the failed Boot scheme was a Lib Dem project. The only project the minority Lib Dem council managed to ‘force’ through was the promenade enhancement and flood prevention scheme and that nearly fell by the wayside because of partisan stupidity and noisy ignorance.

Following amateurish public consultation in the Sovereign Shopping Centre the council’s under-employed ‘Research and Intelligence Officer’ produced a 33-page document outlining the results of that event. It tells us that most responders (ie c. 0.7% of the local population) said “give it to Nightingale because he’s local” and a few raised concerns about the height.

As May approaches, would-be councillors will go out of their way to offer support for the Tropicana and each will blame the other for the current state-of-affairs. They’re all wrong. Nightingale’s plan is as much fanciful nonsense as were those by Mace and Boot. There’s not a hope in hell of building a new Tropicana in the foreseeable future. Why can’t we just accept that and find something sensible to do with what’s there.

JOHN CROCKFORD-HAWLEY

Gerard Road, Weston

Hiding behind statements

I WRITE in response to North Somerset Council’s endless efforts to keep fobbing off the residents and visitors of Weston with yet more excuses as to why it is undoubtedly going to deselect the Nightingale Group with regard to the redevelopment of the Tropicana site.

Yet again it is hiding behind statements like: “The Nightingale Group has not fulfilled the criteria”, a criteria drawn up by the council itself and well before it had any idea of what the residents and visitors of Weston actually wanted. But maybe I’m being unfair. After all, it has only had over 10 years to find this out and prepare for it.

Oh, and let’s not forget the best get-out clause of all: “The council has to conform to EU regulations with regard to the redevelopment of the Tropicana site.”

Does the council expect us to accept this as an answer as to why the Tropicana site will not be redeveloped again? When is our elected council going to have the courage to stand up to the EU and say “we will do what is right for the long term good of our own town and its residents.”

What could the EU do about it? Fine the council? Whatever amount it could fine us is a drop in the ocean compared to the long term benefits a new Tropicana would bring to our town.

The motto of Weston is “Ever Forward”, so come on North Somerset councillors when are you going to live up to it. Now, while you have the chance, or after the elections?

STEPHEN GRIFFIN

Monkton Avenue, Weston

Nothing but an outrage

I HAVE lived in Weston for just over five years and in that time I have to say that I have not been impressed by the way the town and district has been governed.

The current hot subject is, of course, the Tropicana and if the people’s wishes were taken into consideration, Richard Nightingale could be well on his way to laying the foundations of something which will certainly be of fantastic benefit to Weston and the South West of England. It will complement the fantastic Grand Pier, the Wheel and the restored seafront.

It is nothing but an outrage that it is more than 14 years since the Tropicana was closed and nothing has been done to even try and restore it let alone rebuild a new futuristic concept such as the Nightingale project.

How many residents have been asked by their local councillor about their opinions on the Tropicana or other issues for that matter? Very few I would suggest. Is it not time that we citizens of Weston and surrounding villages and towns start talking to our councillors as

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our democratic representatives, get them to listen to us and then to speak on our behalf?

Come on North Somerset, tell us the real reason why Richard Nightingale has obstacle after obstacle laid before him and why, for some reason, the council appears not to want to see a new Tropicana.

The headline last week suggesting that the council is using the Tropicana as a political pawn is very serious and I would like to suggest that the quiet majority of councillors, whom we never hear from, start making their opinions heard and start listening to their voters.

TIM WALTON

Sutton Close, Weston

The sooner, the better

FOR goodness sake, let Richard Nightingale get on with the Tropicana - 99 per cent of Westonians are behind him.

As far as parking on the sands is concerned, we have plenty of beach. Only a minute portion would be used and wouldn’t income be generated for the council by the parking fees?

Much more delay and we could see Mr Nightingale’s financial backers pulling out of the Tropicana plan.

The sooner he can start, the quicker it will be built, completing the enhancement of our superior seafront.

V P CROFTS

Station Road, Weston

Years of talking, talking, talking

YES, in my opinion North Somerset Council is and will use the Tropicana as an election pawn.

We have had years of talking, talking and more talking and the end result has been nothing and the building is now a blot on the landscape. Now we have the EU involved and I doubt very much that many members have ever heard of Weston or the Tropicana. Why should we be dictated to by them as to what we can or cannot do? It’s only going to drag the process on for months and time is running out.

Actions speak louder than words, so let’s have some real action and less talking, otherwise I can see Richard Nightingale pulling out and we’ll end up back at square one.

AILSA BRENT

Albert Road, Weston

A big show of support

I WAS very pleased to see last week’s article in which Richard Nightingale gave his view that the council has ‘used’ him and his attempt to give Weston a swimming pool.

On one hand we have the council leader saying he is delighted that the council has been able to assist the Nightingale Group by giving it the exclusive rights on the project.

But Richard is saying he is sure the council has no intention of giving him this same support when it is to be discussed behind closed doors but will gladly give the voting public the impression that it will, so that when re-election time comes around it will be able to make a big show of supporting the scheme.

Let’s not forget when the council gave planning permission to Henry Boot. It actually gave this developer almost a third of our Beach Lawns and promenade.

It would appear that in order for any developer to have a chance of obtaining working partners the council does realise it has to give something in return. Richard needs more space to build on in order for him to be able to give Weston what it wants and need.

Is the council really going to pull the rug out from the only person who, for 10 years, has tried and tried to be given the chance to do this development. Why doesn’t the council pull out all the stops and really prove to the voting people of Somerset that yes, we can have a pool, ice rink etc.

Let him have some parking on the beach. Yes, get rid of the double yellow lines if it will help. Let’s really get behind this opportunity to have a second exciting project on Weston’s wonderful seafront.

At least Richard is not asking to have any of our Beach Lawns.

As for this business of complying with the EU procurement process, is the council telling us that the EU can say no, and we would have to abide by its decision?

The council should remember this is not costing the ratepayers a penny. It now has a chance to get something done which everybody has been waiting for.

LAURENCE F ORME

Shrubbery Avenue, Weston

Two sides to every story

NORTH Somerset Council leader Nigel Ashton has enjoyed the benefit of pages of coverage in your newspaper in the past couple of weeks – a handy pre-election platform for him and his cronies.

But of course there are two sides to every story and, despite all his words, his must be the worst council regime Weston has ever had.

Its record is there for all to see. Continued vacillation on the Tropicana, leaving local man Richard Nightingale friendless on the council. Roads and pavements in their worst ever condition. Parking charges up and up every year and nothing done to help with residents’ parking or to create a park and ride.

Worst of all, they have run up debts to an unprecedented level – with borrowing likely to reach �175 million by the end of next year. That’s �2,200 in debt for every household in North Somerset.

And what for? Most of the extra spending has been on office accommodation and their bizarre bid to have two town halls – one in Weston and one in Clevedon. They spent �17million on Clevedon and now plan to spend another �10million on Weston. You couldn’t make it up, and I haven’t needed to.

The Conservatives have a virtual monopoly on power on North Somerset Council. They continue to spend nearly �1million a year on pay and perks for councillors. They continue to pay more and more staff salaries in excess of �100,000 a year. They continue to spend a fortune publicising themselves through glossy publications like North Somerset Life.

In 10 weeks’ time, local residents will be able to deliver their verdict on the record of this incompetent and wasteful administration at the local elections.

MIKE BELL

George Street, Weston

How many promises?

I SEE the Conservative council wants to spend �9.75million on the upgrade of the Town Hall in Weston and move the main library into the Town Hall from the Boulevard.

I wonder how people who rely on public transport will cope as the bus stops close to the Town Hall have been moved further around the corner.

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This comes only months after it spent over �17million on purchasing offices in Clevedon, which will have an impact on the economy in Weston. How many times have the Tories at elections promised to bring prosperity to the town? If the council has �9.75million spare why does it have to make the cuts it is proposing which will affect people of all ages across the district?

AMANDA WILKINSON

Lonsdale Road, Weston

Town neglected and abused

I WRITE in response to John Jenkins (Opinion, February 17). The West of England Partnership makes absolute sense for folk in Liam Fox’s wealthy North Somerset parliamentary constituency. It does not make sense for those of us in John Penrose’s Weston constituency.

As proposed by Derek Senior in his memorandum to the Redcliffe-Maud Report on regional and local government, Weston belongs with Berrow and Burnham. Somerset escaped unitary status under the last government, so a district, within Somerset, including Weston and Burnham would be possible as well as desirable.

Under North Somerset Council, Weston is alternatively neglected and abused.

It is used as a dumping ground for North Somerset’s problems and starved of the cash it needs. In Central Ward, we have one of the most deprived wards in the country where male life expectancy is 14.5 years less than in the affluent Gordano Valley.

ROBERT CRAIG

Priory Road, Weston

Unwarranted

attack on Life

I WAS surprised to read Mike Bell’s attack on North Somerset Life.

Has he forgotten that the Liberals were in coalition when it became a monthly publication and that he used it to promote his infamously unsustainable budget in the final throws of the Lib/Lab pact of 2007.

His claim that Life is thinly veiled propaganda is an unwarranted attack on the integrity of council staff and he should apologise.

Whilst on the subject of forgetful ex-councillors, it was the Lib/Lab executive which, in February 2007, approved a plan to move Weston Central Library from its present site to the centre of the town.

The move was proposed by John Crockford-Hawley and Mike Bell was a member of the executive which approved the scheme.

COUNCILLOR TONY LAKE

Greenhill Road, Sandford

Penalised for being single

I WAS horrified to find that as a single theatre goer I am now penalised and have to pay a �2 transaction fee for a ticket at The Playhouse every time I go to a show.

This is discrimination to someone on their own and to those people who are unable to book in advance due to commitments and health reasons.

Two pounds is an excessive amount but if implemented it should apply to credit cards and online booking, not people with cash at the box office. Is there any way you can buy a ticket for the price advertised in the brochure?

Personally my theatre going will definitely be restricted, if not stopped, until this policy is changed. I will now think twice about going to The Playhouse of an evening if I have to pay �2 for a single ticket when a group waiting in the queue will only have to pay �2 between them.

I urge the powers-that-be to rethink this decision. Do you want people to visit the theatre? You should be encouraging everyone and giving incentives to book for more shows. In order to buck this unfair system all those booking on the night could stand in a line and make it one transaction. What a nightmare for the staff.

Long may The Playhouse continue. Live entertainment is needed in Weston but please make the booking system is fair to everyone.

MICHAEL BRANFIELD

Clarence Road North, Weston

Sit back, smell the flowers

IN RESPONSE to some of the letters about Weston, I would like to make the following comments.

As a result of the closure of a housing complex in Portsmouth, my mother and I had to relocate rapidly to Weston.

I am surprised at some of the disparaging comments passed in your newspaper.

We have found the infrastructure, shopping etc to be of a very high standard. The quality of life is vastly superior from other places I have lived.

I have had to have day surgery and found Weston hospital and the standard of care exemplary.

As for the front, that is turning out to be very impressive. Dolphin Square? Try comparing that with the environs around the train station in Portsmouth. Try sitting on Lowestoft beach and you will leave with an oil stained towel! Great Yarmouth, no thanks.

As for the traffic, that is normal everywhere, Southampton traffic has people tearing their hair out with all the liners (none of them British), Ikea, and the university.

On the efficiency of the council, try Carlisle! Sit back and smell the flowers.

SIMON ARNALL-CULLIFORD

Cresswell Close, Worle

Rewarded with away victory

IN THE greedy, selfish, money-grabbing world of professional football it is refreshing to learn about a story concerning Weston Football Club.

Faced with a long journey to Dover for a league game - a journey of six hours - the players elected to stay in a hotel overnight before the game and pay the cost out of their own money.

They were duly rewarded with a 1-0 victory, only their second away win of the season, but in the words of their manager, Craig Laird: “the fact that the players wanted to pay for their own hotel rooms just shows what a highly committed group of players I have here.”

There is a great chasm between the Premiership and non-league football with players like Wayne Rooney earning up to �200,000 per week. Wayne could have bought a hotel for a couple of weeks’ pay! I wonder what some of these overpaid footballers would have said if they had been asked to pay their own hotel bills. So well done Weston but don’t make a habit of it because if you did get promotion this year you would be playing the likes of Barrow or Gateshead and there is no way the club could afford these trips on their gates of less than 250 hardy fans.

GEOFF MALHAM

Clarence Grove Road, Weston

Where is the free parking?

ON PAGE 29 of last week’s Weston Mercury Cllr Elfan Ap Rees said: “There is free parking on the streets of the town centre”. Where?

I have tried all the websites for North Somerset Council in an attempt to email him personally to ask and have failed to get access to any of them. If you can tell me how to get through, please do.

ALAN CHILCOTT

Brendon Avenue, Weston

Oblivious at zebra crossings

ARE drivers blind when it comes to zebra crossings?

I am so cross and have had enough of them failing to stop. My 10-year-old son uses the crossing at the bottom of our street and I have to meet him and make sure it is safe to cross. Today three cars travelling in both directions ignored him standing there.

AMANDA LEWIS

Ashcombe Park Road, Weston

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