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Boots Corner: Let Cheltenham decide

img_3811Over 13 months has now passed since the closure of Boots Corner took place in Cheltenham, and the trickle-down impacts on the Town began.

Cheltenham BID recently released the results of a petition that echoed the many comments that have entered the public domain before, telling us that the changes have effectively screwed local businesses and that for business people and entrepreneurs that rely solely on their location and passing trade to keep their offering in customers minds, a retail future in Cheltenham Town Centre is looking rosey no more.

As has now become normal, the arguments against the Borough Councils’ scheme have been rebuffed on the basis of discrediting the data offered, rather than suggesting they accept any questions are justified.

Yet the most interesting development by far was the story circulating on Twitter from ITV News West Reporter Ken Goodwin that in a BBC Radio Gloucestershire interview, a prominent Cheltenham Borough Councillor has admitted that the Boots Corner closure formed part of an agreement between Councillors and Developers to secure the arrival of the Brewery Quarter in the Town.

If accurate, this admission potentially creates a whole new dimension to the Boots Corner story.

It could confirm that the so-called trial of the Boots Corner closure has always been phoney from the very beginning.

It would almost certainly raise questions over the money spent on monitoring traffic flow since the closure and whether it has been allocated only in some dubious hope that evidence could be gathered that could be presented to prove businesses and local people’s experience of the Boots Corner closure and the associated impact on lives and livelihoods is wrong.

It could very well suggest that above all, the Council is not working democratically and believes it has the right to impose whatever it wants on the local area, irrespective of what people and businesses based and around the Town actually want.

If the Town Centre has been sold out on the basis of a developer deal and without direct public consent, the whole project of which it appears the Boots Corner closure might only be a part, could well raise questions over legitimacy of the decisions behind it and point to illegitimate deals – even if no Councillor has personally accumulated any personal financial gain from the process.

Money doesn’t have to change hands for the behaviour of public servants to be ethically or morally corrupt.

There is simply no evidence available that shows it even likely there will ever be a tangible benefit to the community that will outweigh the negative impacts upon the area – whether it be local people, local businesses and even those who just visit or work in Cheltenham Town – simply from bringing a high profile but nonetheless solely commercial venture to the Town

Indeed, If this is how the Boots Corner closure genuinely came about, it is more than likely the case that by conducting all this post-Boots-Corner-closure analysis, this is the real-world reality for the community that those behind this vanity project are hoping they will be able to overturn.

Regrettably, we do not live in times when those with their hands on the levers of power are prepared to back down when they have been found out.

This means that the Council would have to be forced to rescind it’s decision in some other way. And if it should be found and proven to exist, responsibility for any back-room agreement that should never have been made should be lain solely at the feet of those who are responsible – rather than directed at the bottom of the pockets of local taxpayers who don’t even realise they are paying for the undemocratic ineptitude of the self-serving in many different ways, every single day.

A legal challenge on the basis of any questionable deal resting on the closure of Boots Corner might well be possible if all information were to be disclosed.

But the cost of such a challenge would need to be fundraised and there is no guarantee that the Council could not simply and yes, legitimately argue that the penalties they would incur and may well have contractually agreed to ultimately guarantee any closure would be too high to pay back to the other parties by doing an about-turn unilaterally at a time when  local government is under considerable financial strain.

No, there must be another way. And it’s not by filling out petitions that are rarely reliable enough to persuade anyone. They simply do not habitually engage enough of the people they should.

Nor is it to rely upon Public Consultations that inevitably always deliver the facts and arguments that those driving the change believe they should.

The only way to resolve the Boots Corner question properly and legitimately from here is to put the decision directly in the hands of Cheltenham People. To have a local referendum and make the question very simple: ‘Should Boots Corner be open or closed?’

If the Council genuinely believes the course it is taking by arguably doing little more than imposing a change to the Town of this size and impact as being justified, it will have nothing to fear from putting the decision Democratically in the hands of local people via a plebiscite. And yes, it really should.

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