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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.

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