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A 10-point plan to begin SAVING CLEEVE HILL GOLF COURSE

September 15, 2020 Leave a comment

Hello again. I wrote a blog a few days ago on Saving Cleeve Common Golf Course and covered the essential points that I wanted to share with you all, given my background as a former Tewkesbury Borough Councillor and Licensing Chair, and with the connection with Cleeve Common that both I and my family have, given that my Father Chris was Warden of the Common for the last 15 years of his life.

As a lot of you have taken the time to read what I have said, I felt it only fair that I follow up and provide an overview of my immediate thoughts on how I would approach saving Cleeve Common Golf Course and the Golf Club, and what I would suggest that you all need to think about to get started if that’s what you are resolved to do.

This overview is not comprehensive, and neither is it intended to be. In fact, I’ll bet that you will start to think of things yourself as you read through it. This is how you can all begin to put together a plan that will work!

Before I say anything else, what I am sure of from reading the comments and the views that I have by following the Facebook Group Save Cleeve Hill Golf Course, is there is both the will and passion necessary to do all that needs to be done, providing that everyone involved can approach this project with an open mind and remains committed to seeing it through – even when those lined up against you sound convincing when they say that it cannot be done.

The next thing is probably the most difficult thing for many to read, absorb and accept:

This is not just about saving the Golf Course and keeping Golf on Cleeve Common. This is about saving a community resource that must have the same meaning for everyone, whatever the Club represents to them. So, every perspective needs to be accommodated in your plans for the future as if it is your own personal No1 choice.

Representatives of different community Groups with an interest in the Common, The Golf Club or Cleeve Hill have been commenting and saying they are doing this or they are doing that – with the inference intended or otherwise, that others need to fall in line behind their efforts, because what they are already doing is somehow more important and more credible in some way.

The reality is that none of you will succeed if you attempt to develop a plan for the Course and the Club that focuses primarily on your own use and aims for these facilities.

YOU MUST give equal weight and value to those uses, priorities and opportunities that are not only your own.

Golf is no longer sustainable in its own right on Cleeve Common.

The suggestion has been made a number of times that the Clubhouse could be pulled down and replaced with temporary buildings as a simple golf club and that the Council would be happy with that.

Please, please, please think this through again.

I have seen nothing to suggest that there isn’t a longer-term plan for the Clubhouse and Car Park site in mind that will have a return for Tewkesbury Borough Council.

Without a formal repudiation of this possibility and guarantee that the site will be used as a car park and nothing else in perpetuity from Tewkesbury Borough Council (if the closure goes ahead), I would suggest that all bets would be on a sale or development plan for the site coming into public view as soon as the facilities are fully closed, the Course has been returned to ‘common’ and there is a perception that the matter has been forgotten.

Your job now, is to come up with a plan that means more to the Council and how it is perceived by Taxpayers than what they might believe to be simple economic sense.

Saving the Golf Course and the Clubhouse have to be seen as one and the same. As the future of both as a community resource lies in them being saved, preserved and taken forward together.

Neither the Golf Course nor the Clubhouse will survive on their own.

Whilst the Clubhouse is ‘old’ and in ‘desperate’ need of renewal and refurbishment, I have no reason to doubt that retaining the existing ‘iconic’ building and actually making it the centrepieces of this project is the best thing to do.

Reports for local authorities and government organisations are notorious for having the conclusions spoon-fed to consultants as part of their brief. So it would take a lot to convince me that the structure of the Clubhouse is so far gone that in the hands of someone who wants to save it and is prepared to use creativity to do that, it cannot therefore be saved.

Finally, it is also vital to understand and accept that this isn’t just a Cleeve Hill thing.

It’s a Bishops Cleeve thing.

It’s a Winchcombe thing

It’s a Woodmancote thing.

It’s a Cheltenham thing.

It’s a Tewkesbury thing.

It’s a Cotswold thing.

And if you start to think about it in those terms, you will begin to see the wide range of possibilities for co-working, partnerships and the stakeholder engagement opportunities that are involved that are there to be seized. The ideas turned into action that can and will make this project work.

It is vital that you recognise that you have the power to achieve the goal of saving the Golf Course and the Clubhouse. But every time you pass on or ‘surrender’ that decision or choice to Politicians, to Groups, to the Council, to the Media or to anyone else who isn’t amongst those who feel and believe the same, part of the momentum and with it part of the sum of the chances that together will lead to success will be lost.

If it is your decision to save Cleeve Hill Golf Course and Clubhouse, Do it.

Don’t let anyone else convince you that the future of the ‘Club’ is anyone else’s to ‘own’ or dictate.

And bear in mind, action speak louder than words.

So, to the steps:

1.) Set up ‘Silver Linings’ – The management group and operating company

To be successful, you need to create a management group that will become the board of the operating company. Let’s call it ‘Silver Linings Leisure’. (You get it?!)

Getting the membership of this board right is important. The decisions they make on behalf of everyone will influence whether this project succeeds or fails, and what particular events or actions happen that will push it either way.

You ideally need 6-12 people who are not only committed to saving the Golf Course and Clubhouse. They must also be committed enough and be able to offer the time and energy over at least the next 6-12 months to take this idea and lead the process to make it happen – against all the odds.

Of the board, all of the key user groups should be represented and have voting rights.

Members of the board who are representatives of other community groups MUST have the delegated responsibility to make representative decisions there and then at meetings of the board – as there will not be the time to go back and forth to consult.

Don’t include politicians or anyone else who is an activist looking to gain, grow or enhance their public profile locally. Also don’t include representatives of the staff – or at least don’t let them vote on decisions if you really feel that you must do so.

PLEASE BE AWARE: ALL of you will be volunteers.

You WILL NOT be paid for what you are doing unless you become employed by the operating company in the future.

As a volunteer it is important to remember that everyone else is volunteering too and that you cannot treat others like they are doing a job or like they are employed.

Volunteers take on voluntary roles because they will get something from helping that may not be apparent to anyone else involved. If you make demands on them as if they don’t have a choice, they will very quickly walk.

Expect nothing. Appreciate everything that everyone else does!

2.) Identify your key officers and their responsibilities, agree a basic constitution and become a legal entity

Whilst this really will be a community effort, it is still essential that people take on the key roles and become identifiable as the ‘people to go to’ for those outside of ‘Silver Linings’ so that this specific project will work.

My suggestion is the key roles go to people who have experience of running and developing businesses or organisations, of working with a range of different people and probably have project management skills in the broader sense (Whole business unit rather than just a piece of work or delivering a specific project). They will know who they are, and I would encourage them to make themselves known to the group quickly – IF they feel they can commit the energy and time.

As a start you will probably need:

  • chairman/spokesperson,
  • finance officer/treasurer
  • secretary/public point of contact
  • social media manager
  • media officer
  • project officer
  • purchasing officer
  • an acceptance that the requirements of this project may need responsibilities to flow between  

All of your new Officers must be happy having a public profile and be sure that there will be no conflict with their day jobs or any other roles that they have in the local community. (Conflict means anything that could influence them to change decisions or make decisions that they wouldn’t if they had not become involved. It’s the possibility that counts. Not whether they would or wouldn’t do it)

Write and agree your basic constitution:

You must become a legal entity to be taken seriously by the Council, the Board of Conservators and any other organisation (like funders and sponsors) with whom ‘Silver Linings’ wishes to become involved.

The constitution doesn’t need to be complicated. It just needs to cover the basic reasons for ‘Silver Linings’ being ‘constituted’ in the first place – and the key reason is widely known!

This document is also how where you divide up responsibilities and put together some basic protocols for governance and how decisions are made and where responsibility falls.

Register as a charity and/or limited company

Once you have your Officers and your Constitution, you can set up ‘Silver Linings’ as a legal entity.

 In the first instance, setting up as a charity and registering a limited company would probably be wise. This is after all a community venture with a commercial drive, or what some people recognise as a ‘social enterprise’.

There will very probably be an accountant, solicitor and/or barrister based locally who would be supportive of the project and be prepared to help get this part of the process tied up so that the members of the board are protected right from the start. Find the right one and they may even take on one of your key board roles!

Set up a bank account

Coronavirus and the Lockdown has slowed down the process of getting business bank accounts open. So as soon as the Constitution is agreed, you have the names of your Board (and account signatories) agreed and you have ‘Silver Linings’ legally set up, you should get the process underway.

Ideally there should be a number of different signatories on the account and any payment should only be able to be authorised by a minimum of two.

3.) Arrange meetings with the Key Stakeholders

Meet with Tewkesbury Borough Council.

You MUST engage with Tewkesbury Council as quickly as possible.

Ideally you should meet with the relevant Portfolio Holder (Who I understand to be Cllr. Rob Vines), The CEO (Mike Dawson), whoever the delegated officer dealing with the matter day to day will be, and the Ward Councillor(s) representing Cleeve Hill should really be at the first meeting too.

The local Councillors should be included so that they can fulfil their role as local elected representatives. This IS NOT the same thing as representing your case directly to the Council and I would advise strongly against entrusting them to communicate with either the Council or with Council Officers on your behalf, as there is simply too much to lose.

Your primary aim at the meeting should be to identify what Tewkesbury Borough Council would be seeking in the first instance from ‘Silver Linings’ to take on the Lease on 1st April 2021.

This will include things like:

  • Lease fees (rent)
  • Deposit
  • Guarantees
  • liabilities (who fixes what etc)
  • duration of the Lease etc.

What the Council will want now may be different to what they will accept once a full proposal has been put together which is credible and demonstrates how the project will benefit the community (and the Council) both economically AND in other ways.

It is essential that you DO NOT approach the Council expecting them to give you anything less than the terms of what you know the existing Lease to be in the first instance.

This is The Council’s opportunity to set out its stall. I would be inclined to take what they say they will or won’t do very seriously, as this is the stepping off point and the basis upon which the ‘Silver Linings’ project can be built.

Record the meeting if they will allow you to. Do not do so without permission.

Take notes either way and write the minutes whilst the meeting is fresh in your mind. Run them past whoever was there from the board to check that nothing was missed or nothing was misheard.

Meet with the Board of Conservators:

Gauge how they feel about things and see what they can do to support ‘Silver Linings’.

Is there a way that you could support what they are doing and build it into the ‘plan’?

Please be aware that Tewkesbury Borough Council is represented by a Borough Councillor on the Board of Conservators

4.) Publicise ALL progress and be transparent

Publish the minutes of all meetings ASAP.

Send copies to ALL other parties so that they have the opportunity to challenge any conclusions from your notes or ask for changes and/or reviews.

Make sure that EVERYONE with an interest gets a copy sent directly to their Inbox and a copy is made publicly available on the website.

If you have someone who is good at writing and has time, think about starting a blog diary of events and everything that is being done. This will be a fantastic way to engage the local community and gain support as you go along!

5.) Set up a Crowdfunder

Saving Cleeve Hill Golf Course is enough in itself to get a Go Fund Me page (or similar) going right now.

Money will be needed for basic things like a website and basic expenses to begin with and its not a good habit for anyone to simply cover the cost of anything they do directly out of their own pocket without it being recorded.

Information like this helps with the business plan and could potentially be used in future funding bids if you ever apply for ‘match funding’ where a funder effectively offers to match what you are putting in from other sources – which could include direct ‘donations’.

Be patient about pushing a more substantial funding campaign. You will only be able to start putting the more substantive capital and revenue costs together as you go down this list and know what it will take financially to get the new ‘Silver Linings’ Clubhouse open and supported financially for an appropriate period until it breaks even, can sustain itself and then even pay back loans or better still, reinvest in the development of the ‘business’!

.Once the full project has been costed, that will be the right time to consider whether issuing shares in the new operating company would work. You will need to answer questions like:

  • How much would they need to be?
  • Will we be able to offer any dividends?
  • If we don’t offer dividends, what will our ‘shareholders’ get in return

6.) Write your Business Plan

I’m not sure anyone who has ever launched a business likes writing their own business plans. It’s too easy to get carried away and think you already know everything that needs to be done, but it’s that same enthusiasm that can really catch you out.

Even if you didn’t need a credible business plan to show to Stakeholders, investors and anyone you might be seeking support from, it’s a really good idea to put the most comprehensive business plan that you can together and work out the costings down to a detailed level, making sure that you build in as much scope to cover unforeseen or unanticipated events and risks as possible.

Writing a plan can be tricky with a seasonal business like this one will be. The good news is you already know your handover date or rather the date that ‘Silver Linings’ will move in and takeover Cleeve Hill Golf Course and the Clubhouse if this project is a success!

You have a timeline and so you know when everything needs to be done.

The Council and The Board of Conservators will want to see a credible plan built around this timeline that demonstrates you have thought everything through and how the process of turning the business around will be worked through, when ‘milestones’ or key events in the timetable will be reached and basically, when everything that needs to be done will get done.

The key question:

The biggest part of the project will be refurbishing the Clubhouse.

I would suggest that the best way to do this will be to utilise all of the local tradesmen talent who already use the Club and aim to do something like DIY SOS where everyone mucks in over a period of a week or a fortnight to upgrade, install and refurbish the Clubhouse from top to bottom so that the new ‘Club’ and the services that it offers as a ‘Hub’ can all be offered immediately in a late April or May Bank Holiday ‘relaunch’.

Detail is important, so this isn’t just rewiring, repanelling, repainting.

  • Can internal walls be moved?
  • Can the bar be changed?
  • How can the toilets be better planned?
  • What facilities MUST we have?
  • What needs to be changed to meet current legislation and rules?

You will need to agree on what the ‘Clubhouse’ experience will be. How it is now is how it has been for a long time and it’s going to need to be decorated and designed in a way that it maximises the strengths that it has.

If I was looking at this project on my own, I’d probably be asking questions along the lines of would it be possible to decorate the whole thing like an alpine or Rocky Mountain chalet with a centrepiece wood burner with Cotswold stone and reclaimed wood panels or something like that. It would fit with the whole thing.

Detail is really important to and as part of the revamp, I’d be considering the machinery area, the car park and the walls around the site too. NOT only what you think other people will see.

Also, could a neighbouring field be rented in the summer months to provide car parking perhaps?

Where is the added value for people going to be that is not obvious to see?

So how will ‘Silver Linings’ pay?

The USP or unique selling point of the Clubhouse and the Golf Course is the location.

The questions that need to be answered and thought through include:

  • What services can be offered from the site that we can provide?
  • What services can be offered from the site that a partner commercial organisation could and would want to provide?
  • What local organisations would benefit from the facilities?
  • What can the site offer tourists to the area?
  • What services could you offer if you paired up with local stables, local hotels, local B&Bs, Local breweries, local distilleries, Local Schools, local community organisations and treated the Clubhouse as a local ‘Hub’?

What is important to bear in mind is that people easily forget that things they haven’t experienced themselves are there.

  • How will you get new people in?
  • How will you get them coming back again?
  • How will you ensure that the customer/user experience is always as good as you yourself would want it to be?

Having a facility like this lends itself to year-round, all-day activities and sales opportunities if everything is thought through and is used as it should.

You will need a management in team that has the vison to see this and the wherewithal to implement it too.

But as I said in my last blog, the biggest responsibility for keeping people coming through the doors will be down to you.

7.) Get commitments from ‘contractors’

You will need an architect and/or surveyor to check out everything that can, cannot and must be done to the clubhouse.

Once you have a style and format agreed, you can then look at dividing up the different tasks to the different contractors and tradespeople that I mentioned above.

By this stage, you will have fixed dates in mind and you will be able to tell everyone who is able to volunteer when you will require their time.

8.) Think about getting sponsorship

The list of local companies likely to want to support a ‘feel good’ local community project might not be as long right now as it would at other times, but the opportunities for relationships that are mutually beneficial may have never been so good – particularly if you can sell a company’s products for them!

People have mentioned Julian Dunkerton from Superdry. Well he owns a Dunkerton’s Cider too and whilst the Clubhouse might not be on the Lucky Onion’s hitlist, a commitment to sell his Cider for a short time might get you a discount on the purchase price and be all it takes to get some help and expertise to redevelop the bar and kitchen area to see how it can be made to work best. They may well be happy to promote ‘Silver Linings’ too!

Cotswold Distillery, Hook Norton Brewery, Goff’s, Donnington Brewery to name but a few may all have an interest in you promoting their products. There are bakers, butchers, ice cream makers and all sorts of other great local producers too. So, pick up the phone and ask what they would be prepared to do!

9.) Think about starting funding applications

Once you’ve covered the bases above, you’ll be starting to get a much clearer picture of what ‘Silver Linings’ is going to look like and what its going to cost going forward.

But there are other questions to be asked such as:

  • What investment will the Golf Course need to attract the players, membership and recognition that it needs?
  • What resources does the Clubhouse need to become more attractive to other users – for instance would a minibus and a service down to Cleeve and Winchcombe be the help that it needs?

For a social enterprise that is aiming high to help the community, there will be funding options that can be considered for the long term. But they may not be available in the time that you would like and that’s where the cycle of funding and going back to crowdfunding and then issuing share options begins.

10.) Handover in April 2021

Never lose sight of this date. This is what you are working to. If you can’t be ready to take over the running of Cleeve Hill Golf Course and the Clubhouse on this date – it cannot be done!

OK. So this was a little longer than I thought it would be, but its really only a guide and a guide to what needs to be done as a start at that.

If I can answer questions about any of the above, please post them as comments on this blog below. I will aim to help wherever I can.

Best wishes and good luck to you all!

Adam

The community can SAVE CLEEVE HILL GOLF COURSE. But don’t expect Tewkesbury Borough Council or any local politicians to do it on their own

September 9, 2020 2 comments

I was deeply saddened to read the news this week that Cleeve Hill Golf Club is set to close at the end of March 2021.

Reading the comments on the Facebook Page Save Cleeve Hill Golf Course that has been set up to try and save this well-known local community resource, I could feel the passion and frustration that is already tangible amongst a great many people, whilst from a very different perspective understand fully why the decision and circumstances that are publicly known today will come across as being so unfair.

Those of you who know me will be aware that Cleeve Common occupies a very special part of my family history. My father Chris was the Warden of the Common for some 15 years up until shortly before his death in early 2006 and I am a regular walking visitor myself, having only been for a circular walk with my new pup early this past Sunday morning.

I was also a Tewkesbury Borough Councillor for 8 years and Chair of the Licensing Committee for 4 of them. Whilst I don’t agree with the conclusions or views from the Council I have read publicly, I am well aware of how such decisions these days will have been reached and what factors are likely to have motivated them.

On the Council’s side of the ‘problem’, the current Leaseholder has given notice or taken the opportunity not to renew the Lease (Which regrettably makes a lot of sense). The Council has commissioned a report that says the Golf Club and Course isn’t commercially viable. The Council has concluded that the Clubhouse is beyond a sensible cost for renewal and repair.

But it’s what the Council isn’t saying publicly about their longer-term plans for the Clubhouse site which should really be the starting point for any public interest about the way the decision has been reached – especially in such challenging times for the hospitality and leisure industries.

With the prospect of such a well-known public facility about to be closed, everyone with an interest in Cleeve Hill and the Golf Club has the right to be sure that there isn’t some hidden agenda or longer-term plan at work that is being sold to us as something else as it is convenient and politically expedient to do so right now.

Tewkesbury Borough Council would do well to formally assure the Public immediately that there isn’t any plan for the value of the Clubhouse site to be realised in the future by allowing private development to take place in a process that will benefit the Council financially or in some other way.

To be fair to Tewkesbury Borough, ALL Councils are struggling financially for a range of reasons. Some are local and of their own making. But many are handed to them by the Westminster Government and are therefore not theirs to own.

Right across Local Government, Councillors and Officers have simply lost sight of the fact that they are there to manage public assets like these in our best interests and that Councils are not a business that they can or should even try to run like it is something that they personally own.

Meanwhile, on the Public side of ‘debate’, Cleeve Hill Golf Course is a community asset. Golf Courses are popular and financially viable all around the Cotswolds and the Gloucestershire area. The Course is a landmark and part of our local history and is arguably unique. The Golf course could be better utilised to give local people – and especially young people more constructive things to do.

But the numbers of fee-paying players who go through the Clubhouse and on to a Course like Cleeve Common, in this state and in this location is probably smaller that it may to appearances seem.

The Clubhouse itself is not used regularly in the way that it could be by significant numbers of local people as a pub or destination, and certainly not now during these times that the Government response to Coronavirus continues. Could you really look back to cold, dark misty winter nights on Cleeve Hill and say that this is somewhere that you would then definitely want to be?

Painful as it is to write, the reality is that Tewkesbury Borough Council has already indicated that it will not subsidise the Golf Course. We must all be big enough to recognise that there is a case to be argued that if the Council were going to subsidise anything, there are likely to be other public services that local Public money should be used to prioritise within the local community first.

Equally however, none of us would knowingly invest money in any project that would not command a realistic return. With the cost of modernising and refitting the Clubhouse likely to be the reason why the Council’s Consultants have concluded that it would be better to pull it down, you might begin to see that the Council would probably want to have any investment returned in full in what might be little more than a ten-year period.

Put it this way, if the work considered necessary to re-let the Clubhouse and Course commercially were £400,000.00 up front, the £769.23 per week repayment cost before interest, added to the existing c.£1000.00 per week rental fee would simply make the prospect of taking on the project commercially absurd, when you put it into the perspective of the impact of Coronavirus, The Lockdown and everything else.

Whilst what I have written above is intended merely as a quick guide of the likely mechanics of what is going on, it certainly doesn’t make the decision or any of the unseen influences upon it feel in any way right.

What it does do is suggest strongly that petitions and banging on the doors of Councillors and the Tewkesbury and Cheltenham MPs will ultimately prove not to be enough to yield any meaningful fruit – no matter how sympathetic they or any other local person of influence may be minded to be about saving the Clubhouse and the Course.

If you genuinely want to save Cleeve Hill Golf Course, the community made up of people with an interest in using it will need to come up with an alternative solution to the one that our local Councillors and the Officers that advise them have tabled.

It will have to be one that really works.

It is likely that the Golf Course and the Golf Clubhouse can and will only be saved by a community based, not-for-profit approach such as a social enterprise.

Any kind of commercial or ‘profit-making’ approach without a ridiculous amount of risk and accepted loss is extremely unlikely to be viable in any way.

Whether right or wrong, the starting point for any valid discussion with the Council would be the general understanding and acceptance on the part of everyone who wants to save Cleeve Hill Golf Course that the only thing that can be expected as a minimum will be the good will of the Council to keep the Golf Course open as a Public Community Asset. There must be recognition that any acceptable plan is unlikely to have any additional financial cost to the Council involved.

Crowdfunding is an option to cover remedial work and repairs – especially as the site and location is so popular. This project would have significant attraction if it was marketed just right.

But if there is a genuine will amongst the local community to not only save Cleeve Hill Golf Club and the Clubhouse, but to actually see it thrive, then everyone who wants to see it open and there to use will also have to be both a user and evangelist of the facilities that are on offer. Everyone must make sure that no matter whether they are golfers, a youth group or a local group of ramblers, the operating company that takes over runs and promotes the whole thing and manages this fabulous community asset as both a facility and experience that is accessible to all and is open and ready year-round for everyone to use.

There isn’t much time. To save this resource, a sensible and non-combative dialogue needs to begin with Tewkesbury Borough Council right now, so that the Council has the chance to make clear what they can and can’t do. The Community will then be better placed to consider, put together and then table a proposal and take the steps necessary that might then lead to a 2021 win-win for users, the Council and of course, most if not all of those who are currently facing the loss of their jobs.

The people who use and love the Golf Course and the Common may not have the skills and experience to tackle this issues and drive forward as individuals alone.

But working together, it is almost certain that all of the skills, experience and motivation necessary to save Cleeve Hill Golf Course already exists.

Boots Corner: Let Cheltenham decide

August 12, 2019 Leave a comment

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.

Boots Corner: Who was it really closed for and why?

August 3, 2019 Leave a comment

img_3811Some months ago, I published a list of questions that Cheltenham Borough Council could be answering about the Boots Corner closure and what had really motivated them to do what they have done.

From first look, it would appear that one of the prominent Borough Councillors involved has voluntarily began to do just that.

In a BBC Radio Gloucestershire interview this week – flagged by ITV Journalist Ken Goodwin on Twitter, the Councillor has openly referred to the Boots Corner closure being a part of the agreement to secure the Brewery Quarter Development for the Town.

Whilst a public admission of this kind should immediately have alarms and red flags flying all over it, speculation alone won’t help anyone on either side of the Boots Corner debate.

But there is surely now a need for Cheltenham Borough Council to be fully and openly transparent about the meetings that have taken place between Councillors, Officers and Developers leading up to the Boots Corner closure; what has been agreed between them behind closed doors and what the real implications for the local taxpayer and public purse would be if the Council were to listen to the views and experiences of local people and businesses and scrap the Boots Corner closure and the changes to the Roads around the Town Centre as the impact of the ‘trial’ on the community suggests that it now should.

Data can be used to back any argument when people in positions of power and responsibility know how to do it. What is most important to clarify after a statement by a public representative like this has now been made is why and on what basis the commitment was made to close Boots Corner in the first place and to make clear whether or not Cheltenham Borough Council’s hands have in effect been undemocratically tied.

Boots Corner closed for 6 Months and the consequences for Cheltenham appear very much ‘out of sight, out of mind’

December 28, 2018 2 comments

Boots Corner montage 2

Yes, that’s right. The Boots Corner debacle, the traffic problems It has created for everyone beyond the Planners masterpiece and the now ghost-like roads just a stones throw from the Town Centre have been an evolving problem facing local People and Businesses for 6 Months.

The glad-handing and self-congratulation that we see pouring out in response to every legitimate concern that is tabled, wouldn’t be a problem for anyone outside the Council and the ‘project’ itself, if it weren’t absolutely clear to everyone else that the passage of time and every new thing being added is making the problems worse and worse.

Be in no doubt, the quantitative data that will be used to legitimise this train wreck of a Town Traffic Plan will inevitably support everything that Officers and Councillors say.

What it won’t do is consider any of the qualitative or experiential impacts which are the real consequence for local People, Businesses and frequent visitors or commuters to the Town. Simply because that was never what this vanity project was about.

Out in the real world, Cheltenham’s many passionate Small Business Owners know what does and doesn’t work in the Town Centre. They’ve done the trial and error already, many times over and know intrinsically how footfall and the number of customers who enter through their doors is directly affected and proportional to the cars and traffic that travel past and have direct access and line-of-sight knowledge of who they are and what they are offering to customers.

They possessed this knowledge long before the Boots Corner project got underway and have since increased their level of knowledge and understanding in a very practical way. Information which the arrogance and ‘we know best’ attitude of the controlling Councillors and the Planners both before and since the Scheme was launched has been overlooked.

The only figures and data which now matters to the Council are the number of feet on the High Street. And the answer to the question which should automatically follow this reality simply raises many more questions and a justifiably significant level of concern about what the priorities of Cheltenham’s District Authority now are as opposed to what they should actually be.

Take a walk in the streets behind boots, M&S and John Lewis and only the most unaware of people could walk away from the experience without recognising the physical and atmospheric change to what is still a part of Cheltenham Town Centre.

Whilst the confusing mish-mash of changes to what used to be a straightforward and accessible road system may seem much safer to some faceless bureaucrat in an office somewhere, the strange silence of these roads doesn’t foretell a beneficial change taking place for any of the businesses that cannot afford the significant rents and mortgages of the revamped High Street, forcing them to go beyond.

No, it tells us that the priority in Cheltenham is only big retail business, and that the lifeblood of the town which will always be it’s plethora of Small Businesses is being condemned by both the actions and words of both elected and appointed Public Representatives.

Unpalatable as it may be to idealistic Councillors and influential Officers who have been culturally conditioned to believe that they have no other way to respond, people notice and remember the places that they want to go when they are travelling through the Town in their cars.

Yes we may have a wider, cultural problem with the dependency upon four wheels that there is.

But there is nothing practical in trying to pretend there are not natural laws at work and that human behaviour itself dictates that the lack of foresight and absence of intuitive consideration of what these changes to the Town Centre have already and are set to do, confirms that this Council will only ever deliver on its own ideas, whilst paying scant regard to the consequences of its actions upon others. Namely the very people it exists for and is there to serve.

What is effectively the closure of what used to be the inner ring road is an avoidable blight on a large swathe of Cheltenham Town Centre which will mean existing businesses will fail, new ones will never get the footfall that they need to keep going, and instead of being a destination of business opportunity for the many, this idealistic approach to managing a Town Centre will instead only really be of benefit yet again to the deep pocketed few.

For the people who know and love Cheltenham for the great Town that it already is and has been for a considerably long time, John Lewis and The Brewery are great enhancements for the Town to have. But they should never be interpreted by anybody as being all that Cheltenham is now about.

Changing this Council may be the only way that Cheltenham can now overturn this injustice, as political action is the only way that self-serving Councillors are likely to be pushed to respond to any thoughts, feelings or ideas other than their own.

Cheltenham & Boots Corner: When things don’t add up, questions need to be asked

November 2, 2018 2 comments

BCWith the Boots corner closure remaining firmly in local minds, the Council attempts to write the concern off as nothing more than the views of a ‘vociferous minority’.

Regrettably, this is how Local Government glosses over disquiet in the UK today and hitting the spot when it comes to overturning undemocratic decisions is a very hard thing to do, as the whole culture has evolved to protect itself.

In reality, even elected Councillors that do have their local communities and constituents at the heart of what they do, can find it an almost impossible task to get the right questions answered, as the system is geared to allow the close-down of unwelcome debate.

That said, persistence is the greatest ally in achieving worthy aims in Government, and if you keep asking questions, and then the questions which then follow any answers that you might get, the right result is far from being impossible – even if it doesn’t arrive within a timescale that you might find comfortable or like.

If I were representing people in Cheltenham right now, there are a number of questions that I would immediately ask. I would anticipate having many more, depending upon the answers I received or found. They would be as follows:-

Why has Boots Corner been closed?

Whilst it sounds like the answer should be obvious, it isn’t. BUT it is in the interests of the Council and/or whoever benefits from the closure for members of the Public to think that it is. Be sure not to fall into the trap of reading or listening to opinion, such as the article in last Sunday’s Observer, which framed the whole issue as being about pollution. That is just a useful excuse that takes the debate in a very different direction and is designed to make the real issues subservient to those that are in vogue.

Who or what is the driving force behind the change?

Is it the whole Council? Is it one of the Political Groups? Is it Officers? Were there Consultants involved? If there were Consultants involved, who paid the bill and what was the Brief?

What is their reasoning and motivation for the change?

Why now? What do the changes to Boots Corner really achieve? Is the reasoning given the full story, or is there more that we should know?

Who are the real beneficiaries?

Who stands to benefit from the changes at Boots Corner? What will those benefits be? What evidence was used to suggest that these results would be achieved? What modeling was used? What real-life examples were used and how do they relate to the very idiosyncratic nature of Cheltenham’s Road Plan?

What else is happening which is related?

There’s no such thing as coincidence. What else is happening on the same timeline as the changes to Boots Corner? What bigger Strategy is at work?

How did the Council reach the conclusion that the change was necessary?

What was the process within the Council that led to the decision to make the changes at Boots Corner? What is the chronology and timeline of the events that led to it? Who was involved in the process? What influence did each of the Parties involved have?

What evidence or tests being met will confirm the change as permanent?

The changes have been portrayed as being temporary or as a trial. What evidence will be used to decide if the changes at Boots Corner should become permanent? How have those levels been defined? Who has defined them? Who will write up the final Report, Conclusions and table the Proposal for the Council to decide?

What has been used as the basis of those tests?

Where did the ideas or methods come from which have been used to define these tests?

What has changed?

What has changed since the last time the Council and/or other Local Authorities considered closing Boots Corner and decided not to?

What is the long term Strategy?

 Is the closure of Boots Corner part of a much bigger plan? Does the Council intend to pedestrianise the whole of the High Street and Centre of Cheltenham? Is there something on the horizon that isn’t Publicly known?

What consultation with the Public has taken place?

Did a Public Consultation take place? If so, how was it carried out? What questions were asked? Who took part? How many people took part? What were their responses? What questions were raised? How were those questions answered?

What consultation with local businesses has taken place?

Did a Consultation with businesses take part? If so, how was it carried out? What questions were asked? Who took part? How many businesses took part? What were their responses? What questions were raised? How were these questions answered?

What consultation with Developers and Landlords has taken place?

Were Developers and Landlords consulted? What role did they play? What influence did hey have?

What influence has the arrival of the John Lewis store had on Boots Corner and other changes to the Town Centre Traffic system?

Has the arrival of the John Lewis store and its opening this Autumn had any influence on the Council’s decision making? If so, how?

Who designed the current plan?

Who designed the revised traffic and/or road plan to facilitate the Boots Corner closure? What modeling did they use? Why was that modeling considered appropriate as the basis for the changes?

What work was undertaken on traffic displacement modeling?

What work was undertaken on traffic displacement modeling? (Literally, what were the recognisable alternatives for drivers?) Where are the plans and figures showing where the traffic would go when Boots Corner was closed? How do the Council know what alternatives people who used to drive through Boots Corner to access the North of the Town Centre and beyond would use?

What steps were taken in response to the traffic displacement modeling before Boots Corner was closed on 28th June 2018?

What steps were taken to address the impact of the traffic re-routing which was going to take place after the Boots Corner closure BEFORE it actually took place in late June?

All of this information should be available in the Public Realm, but it is far from an exhaustive list of questions, and I am sure that many more would arise as you go along.

The primary sources of information should be the Minutes of the Meetings of the Full Council and also any of the Council’s Committees which have been working on or ‘overseeing’ the Boots Corner changes.

This is where all of the decision making, the reasoning and the evidence that supported it should be open to Public view.

If not, Freedom of Information Requests (FOI) should enable access to anything else that isn’t disclosed because it has taken place outside of Public Meetings.

Please Remember: The Boots Corner Closure is a matter of everyday Public concern. As such, legitimate questions should always be answered when asked or presented appropriately. If the Council and any party involved has been fair, balanced and done everything properly to ensure that the best interests of local people, businesses and anyone it has a duty of care to are served, they will have nothing to hide and everyone working on their behalf will be as open and helpful as they can be. They certainly wouldn’t need to rely on or have reason to resort to ridicule or any other form of personal attack as part of their response – whatever the medium.

Dear Cheltenham, a Petition to stop the Borough’s ridiculous changes at Boots Corner is a great start. But if you really want to make the Council think again, start HERE

October 13, 2018 Leave a comment

 

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For me, one of the most challenging and frustrating experiences of being a Local Councillor, was talking to people I represented who had genuine grievances and reasons for stopping a poor policy from going ahead, who couldn’t understand why the Council wasn’t listening and basically didn’t care either.

Please believe me when I say that the only way to really have any chance of understanding what is wrong with Government and the Public Sector, is to experience it from within.

Even then, it is essential not be taken in by anyone who tells you that ‘this is just the way that things work’. It isn’t.

But most people who enter as Officers or newly elected Councillors with high ideals and aspirations for doing something good, simply accept everything that they are told and quickly become part of the problem too.

Over the Summer, talking to people whose lives have Cheltenham at their very centre, I again saw one of those massive issues coming into view. A completely unnecessary ‘created’ problem that makes sense to nobody who exists in the ‘real world’ outside of our own version of the Local Government system.

I’ve experienced the Boots Corner travesty first hand. I have had to make the same detours as you probably have done yourself and know that this whole project is benefiting nobody or nothing other than the ego’s of the people who dreamed this foolishness up.

I’ve already given my view on the whole thing here a couple of weeks ago. And whilst it is great to see Cheltenham’s MP Alex Chalk talking openly about how unwanted the Scheme is and a Change.org Petition now in place, we should all be under no illusion about how entrenched the mentality of those responsible for the Boots Corner fiasco is now likely to be.

If you want the Boots Corner plan overturned, the road reopened to all traffic and no more ridiculous schemes like this one to simply arrive without genuine consultation, there is only one thing that you can now really do.

You have to work to change the whole Council and replace them with people who have the same interest in what’s truly beneficial for the people in Cheltenham. That’s getting people elected as Councillors,  who put Cheltenham before themselves and any Political Party they might represent. People who have the same real-world view as you.

If one person is prepared to stand in the next Local Elections within each Cheltenham Borough Council Ward, take Party Politics out of the equation and then start working as a representative for something better for the People and Businesses of Cheltenham, we might all be surprised just how quickly the Campaign to overturn this stupidity will start to gain results.

Don’t be fooled by thinking that the Elections don’t matter in Cheltenham because they are a long way off. It doesn’t matter because it’s the cumulative effect of the work and effort talking to people, knocking on doors and getting real people engaged that will grow the very best fruit.

It is important that you or anyone prepared to do the work necessary to represent a Ward as a Councillor are committed enough to be ‘in it to win it’.

You must also be prepared to do everything that it will take to see this Campaign through until Boots Corner is fully reopened, normal traffic is flowing and the target result is achieved.

Being told that the Borough Council is prepared to change its mind will not be enough. Like politicians generally, Councils have a habit of quietly changing their mind as soon as any noise goes quiet.

To be sure of success, Boots Corner must be fully open before you can think about whether you then want to stop campaigning for what’s best for Cheltenham.

Being a Councillor or even taking on the responsibility of working to get elected as a Local Councillor isn’t for everyone. There’s a lot to think about before anyone can decide.

If you want to run a successful Campaign and then be a good Councillor too, it is essential that you know, understand and are fully committed to what you are getting yourself into.

I’m not making the suggestion lightly. I’ve been an Officer within a Local Authority, a Councillor and Senior Member of another.

I’m putting this on the table for people who live and run Businesses within the Boundary of Cheltenham Borough itself. Local people who are eligible to become a Candidate and are motivated to represent the real views of the people and businesses of this great Town.

What I can do to help you is offer you the benefit of my experience, through advice and suggestions.

I can provide you with direction and a guide to what you need to think about. An outline of the reality of what it takes to get elected and everything that you will find when you are successful – which you can be if you are ready to do all that it will take.

How to get Elected is available to read FREE on a guide-to-area Website, and a page-list-based Blogsite which is also FREE for you to use.

If you want to read How to get Elected on your Kindle, it is available from Amazon too.

 

 

 

 

Cheltenham BC and Boots Corner: Like local government across the UK, officers and councillors aren’t listening to the real boss, and change is well overdue

September 29, 2018 4 comments

Boots Corner

I’ve been out of local government for nearly three and a half years. But I have continued to watch the continuing chain of messes being created within our Gloucestershire Boroughs and Districts. Usually because someone or a very few people with power and with influence have personal ownership of and therefore investment in some ‘great’ idea. Ideas which are nearly always in some way about them, their career, their legacy or future. Wholly impractical ideas which are then misrepresented as being beneficial to the people they are actually responsible to. The people that they all represent.

There is some rich irony in the fact that lessons are never learned by these same people who have responsibilities not only to themselves, their jobs or their Political Parties.

Lessons are there to be taught through everything these public organisations do. They may appear to arrive in different form, but the same mistakes are being made time after time, over and over again.

Planning, for all the questions which surround it’s often arbitrary processes, has regrettably become the most day-to-day example of all that’s wrong in local government.

The Local Planning Process continually demonstrates all that is wrong with the wider system itself. But the problem is only in small part due to laws and regulations, and actually more about the people who manage and implement government processes, their ideas, motives and yes, the ties that bind them to their ‘interpretations’ within the protectionist culture and environment in which they work.

Watching the Boots Corner fiasco unfold over recent months has been like reading a text-book example of what happens when Planners and their Political Masters get things wrong. What people experience when Councils come up with a ‘great idea’ to improve things, but overlook the most important consideration in the room: What the impact and consequences will be for the people and businesses whose interests they are actually paid and elected to look after.

It doesn’t take many conversations with local business people, residents, employees and regular visitors from local feeder Towns to know that these changes at Boots Corner are idealistic at best, but practically awful.

The changes are having an impact not only on the Centre of Cheltenham itself, but are loading traffic onto the already congested main roads around the Town at rush hour, and now jamming back streets and almost certainly creating rat-runs unseen at every opportunity in between.

The change at Boots Corner is unnecessary. It’s not improving the Town Centre and nobody apart from the Planners and whoever on the Council they have convinced of the validity of this Scheme really has any idea what the real benefit of these changes are to anyone using Cheltenham Town Centre.

And that’s right now. Just wait until the long-awaited John Lewis Store opens its doors and visitor numbers really do burst through the lid.

Now don’t let anyone tell you that the Council is not aware of how people feel. If you follow local news, you cannot miss the disquiet that the changes in late June have raised. This is not Nimby-ism. It’s real people voicing genuine concern over the impact of poor decision making which is now having meaningful impact on their everyday lives.

The travesty is that instead of listening, and for fear of admitting being ‘wrong’, the Council is doubling down and now adding oversized flowerpots, cycle racks, benches, a lot of unhelpful white lines and yes, some artificial grass sat on the lump in between.

And there’s unlikely to be any mistake about the drawn-out nature of the timing of additions either.

Why? Well it’s all to give a repetitive sense to us all that this change is permanent. That when they tell us all that the trial was a success, that with hindsight it will feel like its permanence was always inevitable. That there was no option or reason to change their minds at any point in between.

But this simply isn’t true. And any tales you are told about decisions taking a long time to reverse in Council, or that a trial period must be seen through to its end to be valid are disingenuous at best.

There is no inevitability of confirmation for these changes at Boots Corner or indeed permanence of this change. It simply hinges on what the Officers and therefore the Councillors ultimately decide and however they choose to harvest and then interpret their ‘data’.

The fact is the Council could reinstate the pre-June road system within a few days if they really had doing what’s right for Cheltenham, in mind.

However, it is only fair that no Officer or Councillor be singled out and in some way blamed for what is happening in the Centre of Cheltenham right now.

The whole Government system is rotten with a protectionist and self-serving culture, only made worse by the quasi-bankrupt state of the Government and Public Sector, with austerity being a big part of the problem, but a significant way from being the cause.

But this in itself doesn’t mean that Cheltenham and indeed any of our Local Authorities cannot choose to be different.

The Council has the choice to be big about it. To listen. To gain respect from local people and businesses for trying something new but recognising it doesn’t work, for listening AND HEARING what is being said and quickly responding. To be adaptable to changing things that aren’t right and not get hung up at a personal level about what appearing to take a step back might look like.

Decisions are being made big and small within local authorities up and down the Country which have very little to do with with the people. And in case anyone isn’t sure, that’s the boss that Officers and Politicians ALL ultimately work for.

Locally the latest one is Boots Corner. In terms of direction, this one is definitely going the wrong way, and poor decisions which are having a real impact on daily life in Cheltenham are not the kind of change in local government that we all so badly need.

How about surprising us all and doing what’s actually right, rather telling us that’s what you are doing?

 

You can read some more of Adam’s writing about the realities of Local Government and the wider Public Sector here and here.

 

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