Friday, 26 April 2013

Stoke Councils reminds residents we have no Elections

Is it now time for Council Leader Mohammed Pervez to announce 32 by-elections and give the residents of Stoke back their votes that were removed?
Residents are being reminded that there are no local elections scheduled in Stoke-on-Trent on May 2.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council is issuing the reminder having had a flurry of calls from residents enquiring about an election elsewhere in Staffordshire on the date.
Residents in neighbouring Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire Moorlands and other areas of the county will be going to the polls on Thursday 2 May for a Staffordshire County Council election. But this election does not involve Stoke-on-Trent.
Paul Hackney, assistant director for legal services, said: “We have received several hundred calls from residents enquiring about the county council election, and asking why they haven’t been issued with poll cards.
“Residents might have relatives who live over the administrative border where elections are taking place. But I’d like to be very clear and stress that there are no elections in Stoke-on-Trent next week.
“The next scheduled election involving Stoke-on-Trent is a European election next May, and residents will be informed of this in good time, closer to the date. The next local election in the city is scheduled for May 2015.”

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Diane Morgan to Tristram Hunt

Dear Tristram Hunt,

In a city faced with numerous challenges both social and economic it is
with exasperation that I learn of the current £280,000,000 City Council
debt, not to forget the addition of the ever changing cost of the
Central Business District in Hanley.

I have two questions;

How can the city possibly start its recovery from the national and
local economic downturns with overwhelming debts?

How has this situation arisen, indeed how can a city on its financial
knees be granted more loans?

On a closing cultural note, I watched with pride a television programme
recently about the life and achievements of one of the greatest sons
and industrialists of the Potteries, Josiah Wedgewood, who along with
others put this city on the map. What would these great people think of
the city now I wonder?

I note the home of Josiah Wedgewood is for sale. What a missed
opportunity for tourism/heritage trails, another part of the Potteries
unique history possibly lost for ever, the cost of which to develop
would be minimal in comparison to other developments.

Thank you for taking the time to read this email

Yours sincerely,

Diane Morgan

to Tristram Hunt

Dear Tristram Hunt
I wrote to you in January 2013, expressing my extreme consternation about Stoke on Trent City Council’s reckless spending and borrowing of money, in particular relating to the proposed move to the Central Business District.
In your reply you questioned my financial figures and stated that only £250,000 has been spent on the Stoke Civic Centre refurbishment and it was just floor one that was refurbished. All floors were refurbished, starting at floor four and working down to floor one. But, as you said, we could continue to debate the merits of such work (and the cost). However, it is too late to stop that money being spent and I am now focusing my concerns with future borrowing.

Referring to the Council’s financial acumen, I directly quote from your letter ‘I have more faith in their competency than you do’, In light of recent revelations about:
1. The City’s £280m debt
2. The arrest of a Labour councillor on theft charges
3. Mark Meredith’s scandal-related resignation
4. Missing cash from the Labour party’s bank account
5. The abandoned plans to borrow another £19m due to public backlash
..... and no doubt more financial irregularities that have not yet come to light, I have one question for you: Do you still have ‘faith in their competency’?
This is a city in ruins.
Yours sincerely.
Anne Farrington

Tristram Hunts Reply 

compared to his reply back 

Tristram Hunr 22nd January Reply

email to my local councillor, Shaun Pender

Dear Shaun Pender

I emailed you on 17 January 2013, detailing my extreme dismay about the outrageous and reckless borrowing undertaken by the Labour-controlled council. I finished with two questions for you:

1) Do you agree with Stoke-on-Trent Council borrowing millions and millions of pounds to fund a building to re-house staff that already occupy another purpose-built building?
2) If you do agree, will you give me your reasons please?

Simple enough questions, but you said the ‘The rationale underpinning the relocation to Hanley is complex so I will ask the relevant cabinet holder to provide a comprehensive response to your question’

That cabinet member was Mark Meredith and his response was the usual corporate flannel. In light of his recent scandal-related resignation, do you now feel able to answer my questions personally or will you again feel obliged to refer them on? You are my local councillor and so I direct my questions to you and would appreciate an honest response.

Yours sincerely

Anne Farrington


Dear Ann Farrington,

I do support the development of the Central Business District of which the 
relocation of services to Hanley is an integral part.

The decline of traditional industries means that for many years our city has 
been on a downward economic spiral. As a consequence, indices of deprivation 
within Stoke-on-Trent make grim reading. Educational attainment, income levels, 
mortality rates and house prices are all well below the national average.

Central government has imposed year on year cuts of 7% on the Local Authority 
(compared to much less severe cuts for Tory led councils) making it increasingly 
difficult for them to provide services within the city.  Further, economic 
stagnation within the city means that the Local Authority has an ever decreasing 
revenue stream as business rates are not being generated. Similarly, high levels 
of unemployment takes people below the council tax threshold.

This direction of travel is not an option and can only be arrested through the 
creation of real employment opportunities for the residents of the city. To 
create these much needed jobs requires a bold forward thinking strategy and 
above all targeted capital investment. By developing the CBD and other 
associated projects, the council will help to create a vibrant, modern centre 
which is a prerequisite for any city that is serious about regenerating.

The relocation to Hanley will encourage businesses from the financial  sector to 
occupy the new office developments which will give the local economy the much 
needed impetus that it needs to grow. The cost to the council of moving to the 
CBD will be offset by the sale of its existing assets, and the considerable long 
term savings which will be made through reduced  maintenance and energy costs.

The development of Stoke town centre is also part of the overall strategy for 
growth. I believe that there has been significant interest from investors in 
both the civic and former Spode sites with the real possibility of new 
employment opportunities for our local residents.

Incidentally, I passed your first email on to the cabinet member because I 
genuinely thought that he would better placed to provide you with an 
authoritative explanation of the rationale behind the move to Hanley. This is 
common practice within the council and with me not hearing anything to the 
contrary I naturally assumed that you were satisfied with the way that I handled 
your question.

In your email you say that you would "appreciate an honest response" to your 
question. And as an elected member this is something that I endeavour to do at 
all times. 

Yours sincerely
Shaun Pender   

Alan Lear to his MP, Rob Flello:

Dear Mr Flello,
I am writing to you to express my concerns about our Labour-led council and its officers taking this city deeper and deeper into debt that the residents can’t afford, on a controversial and total gamble of moving our civic centre from Stoke to Hanley. They are doing this in the forlorn hope that it will generate the local economy by inducing new businesses to locate there.
My concerns are:
1) In the report to Cabinet recommending the CBD development, 31May 2012, this paragraph appears:

1.3. From when the concept of a Central Business District was first discussed, there has been a recognition that, in the absence of an established 'office market', to enable a project of this nature to commence it will require a public sector, or similar anchor tenant, on which future marketing can be promoted and built. This report has been produced to seek members' support to the City Council taking up office accommodation in the critical initial phase of the development. If the City Council does not commit to establishing significance in the new central business district it is extremely unlikely that the development will progress.
If this is the case then it is self-evident that this is a foolhardy and reckless commitment of public funds to a venture that is doomed to failure if it was required to stand as a privately funded business venture. I’m absolutely astounded that not one councillor took this statement up and questioned the logic of taking the decision to go forward with this move.

2) The Council wants to build upon the retail sector and bring in large companies to the CBD. This sector, as anyone who keeps up with the news, is in meltdown due to the economic situation. Only today we see the closure of a Hovis bread making plant, Tesco and even Apple are showing that there is a huge decline in their profits. Locally we have a 28% retail unit vacancy level and shops are continually closing down to such a degree that my local High Street seems to be changing on a weekly basis. You yourself, only today, commented on Prime Minister’s Question time about the huge increases in the referral and use of Food Banks which have to, in some cases, limit their distribution of food to only families with children. What will happen to these people if they are subjected to more benefit cuts and a probable rise in council tax to pay for this move?
3) For any large business to commit to a business start-up in any particular location they look at its infrastructure. What are the transport network systems like? How easily can materials be brought in and finished products distributed to customers? How skilled and adaptable are the local workforce? What is the local educational attainment level? How much poverty and deprivation exists? What type of economy already exists? What is the average wage for the locality and how much disposable income do the residents have? Personally I feel that Hanley falls desperately short of expectations on quite a few of the above. I believe this is why we can’t get any information on which firms are interested into taking up occupancy in the CBD. On the other hand we are told that there have been 29 expressions of interest in moving to Stoke, which has the benefit of the transport network previously mentioned.
4) With large retail organisations the Pareto principle applies or the 80-20 rule of thumb. Any large organisation will take 80% of its earnings/profit out of the area/community where they are located. You only have to think of Kier or Tesco. They don’t buy from our local businesses therefore they are not really contributing to our local economy. True they do contribute wages (the 20%) but the majority are so low that they attract in work benefits. In addition these companies take all of their profit and it is placed on the books of their parent companies far removed from the communities in which their profits were generated. 
5) I believe the council is failing to demonstrate its understanding of our local retail economy. There are nearly 300,000 stores in the country with 86% employing fewer than 10 people. The importance of retail to local economies should not be underestimated. It is one of the few sectors with a presence in every neighbourhood across the six towns. These local economies are underpinned by retail as a provider of employment and the goods and services people need and want. Where there is this amount of small retail activity there is a multiplier effect for other consumer facing enterprises (tourism, food and drink, sports and leisure, personal services as diverse as hair and beauty and banking, evening and night-time economy). The council shouldn’t be concentrating on building another retail park which will take years, it should invest in this local economy which already exists. The council could start to do this tomorrow.

6) I was horrified to recently discover that we are currently in debt to the tune of nearly £280 million pounds to the Public Works Loans Board and that some of the loans are not due to mature until the 2050s. The information also shows that we are currently paying interest on those loans at a rate of £12.3 million pounds per year. It also shows that our Labour led council borrowed £74.4 million in 2012 with yearly interest payments of £2.6 million. With this huge outstanding debt hanging over the good people of this great city I cannot think of one good reason to continue with this controversial and uneconomical move of the civic centre from Stoke to Hanley. We don’t know how much this will cost as neither our Council Leader, Councillor Pervez nor Peter Bates, the Assistant Director for Financial Services are able to give us any answers other than it is a gamble that will bring businesses and jobs to Hanley and we should trust them to handle this kind of budget.

As my local MP I do hope that you will take up my concerns with the other local MPs and I do hope that you can persuade them and the Labour cabinet members on our council to rescind their decision to move the civic centre. If they continue to proceed with this move then I predict that it will be a reckless and a financial disaster. 
Yours sincerely,
Alan Lear

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Future plans

Dear Mark Meredith,

I write following your recent resignation as cabinet member for Stoke on Trent City Council and your current position as elected member for Northwood and Birches Head.

In light of your resignation I would like to ask two questions:

1. Will you be committing more time to Northwood and Birches Head and
increase your visibility in the community?

2. How will further questions regarding Dimensions now be answered and
through what forum?

Yours sincerely,

Diane Morgan

REPLY on 24 April 2014..........................

Hi Diane

I have held a ward surgery every month at the Bridge Centre along with two other surgeries in other parts of the ward. 

I also held a public meeting in Northwood Parish last week where I presented the councils Mandate for Change. 

I hope to hold a similar event at Birches Head High later this year. I also plan to produce a local newsletter for residents which will be out later this spring. 

On the Dimensions issue the council has answered questions through the Freedom of Information process to date and I presume this would continue if further questions arise. 

Kind regards 

Councillor Mark Meredith
Stoke-on-Trent City Council

Monday, 22 April 2013

Letter to the Sentinel

Dear Sir,

Recently one of our March on Stoke members applied for a Freedom of Information request to the council regarding the outstanding loans our Council and its Officers have made the residents of Stoke on Trent liable for.

I was horrified to discover that we are currently in debt to the tune of nearly £280 million pounds to the Public Works Loans Board and that some of the loans are not due to mature until the 2050s. The information also shows that we are currently paying interest on those loans at a rate of £12.3 million pounds per year.

It also shows that our Labour led council borrowed £74.4 million in 2012 with yearly interest payments of £2.6 million.

With this huge outstanding debt hanging over the good people of this great city I cannot think of one good reason to continue with this controversial and uneconomical move of the civic centre from Stoke to Hanley. We don’t know how much this will cost as neither our Council Leader, Councillor Pervez nor Peter Bates, the Assistant Director for Financial Services are able to give us any answers other than it is a gamble that will bring businesses and jobs to Hanley and we should trust them to handle this kind of budget.

I don’t know how your readers will react to the information regarding our debts but I know that there is huge opposition to moving our Civic Centre. I feel that if the council goes ahead with this move in times of such great austerity and adds even more debt to the amounts that we already owe then it will not be a "brave and bold" decision it will be a reckless and a financial disaster.

More and more residents are seriously doubting our leader's financial competence and are joining with our March on Stoke members who have no confidence at all in the Labour Councillors and Officers running this city for the benefit of its residents.

Personally I feel that the Labour Party is doing to Stoke on Trent what it did to the country whilst it was in power.

Report from the Correspondence Sub-group

We held a Correspondence Sub-group meeting tonight and these are our actions:

Diane Morgan: email Mark Meredith to ask (a) why he is still councillor for Northwood and Birches Head when he is no longer deemed fit to be on a cabinet member and (b) when he intends to respond to the hitherto unanswered questions about the Dimensions scandal. 

Chris Nightingale: email Mark Meredith to ask to explain his poor attendance record at council meetings. Write to the Crime Commissioner for his opinion on Mark Meredith’s recent cabinet resignation.

Anne Farrington: email local councillor again to ask why he didn’t answer the original question on the new Civic Centre finance but passed it on to Mark Meredith.

Alan Lear: write to the Sentinel citing the recent disclosure about the City being over £200m in debt and why the council is still intent on borrowing millions more.

All four of us: write to our local MPs about the massive debt the City is in and their views on the flawed wisdom of borrowing millions more to finance a risky new venture in Hanley.

All correspondence (and responses) will be posted on Facebook and here as soon as they are available.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Next Meeting

There will be a full and open public meeting at the Leopard Public House in Burslem on April 29th at 7pm. We will have an agenda, which we will post in a due course and hopefully some plans for future events to keep up the pressure on the council to engage with us and to stop the move of the Civic Office.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Letter to Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary

Hello Yvette,

I'm from Stoke-on-Trent and I can promise you that, despite your comments in Stafford, the local labour party is NOT listening to the electorate, in fact it takes great pride in ignoring us!

I have spoken to many of the councillors and 
especially the leadership. Cllr Pervez, when asked by me to take a cut in his expenses in order to help keep open a few facilities, and show solidarity with the tax paying voters simply asked me, "What good would that do?" I reiterated that if all councillor expenses were cut by the same 30% cut they're asking of their lowest paid staff, then at least one, possibly two, community centres could stay open. He then proceeded to change the subject.

We've asked for a public enquiry into the Dimensions scandal, where Cllr Meredith publicly lied to the chamber, the public and the police about secret deals with a private businessman to close a well used and valuable public facility, (Dimensions Leisure Centre), to pay an annual subsidy to the businessman of £100,000 so that he would then offer cheap deals for schools to use his, similar, facility. Cllr Pervez and the CEO, John van der Laarschott, also denied any knowledge and have subsequently been caught out in the same lie.

We have a perfectly fit for purpose Civic Centre, housing most of the council staff, right on the A500, (the main thoroughfare through the city), with links at each end to the M6, less than a mile from the A50, with a direct link to the M1 and a 5 minute walk from the ONLY railway station in the city. The Labour controlled council want to move the Civic Centre, which is less than 20 years old and has recently had £1m of refurbishment, including solar panels on the roof, just over a mile up the road, where the parking, which they currently enjoy for free, will cost the staff over £1000 a year each.

In order to do this, they're going to borrow a MINIMUM £40m to "kick start" the Central Business District, which has so far just 3 potential tenants despite being marketed for almost 3 years. Those tenants are the council, the library and the police station. Not one business. I'll repeat that for emphasis - NOT ONE BUSINESS has shown even the remotest interest in moving to that part of the city. Mainly because the road and rail infrastructure, so vital in any business decision, is better where it is. The public opinion, and various petitions and consultations with the public have been carried out, is over 90% AGAINST this move, for many reasons, not least of which is the credit rating of the developer, which is exceptionally poor. However, the main reason is that we're making cuts all over the place, except of course at senior level, and the public is having to endure the consequences of those cuts, and now we're going to have to endure a rise in council tax and other inventive "fleece the public" schemes to pay for this loan.

Cllr Pervez and his Chief Financial Advisor (Mr. Peter Bates), are both on record as saying that they don't actually know the full cost of the loan because nothing has been signed yet, and it will be paid back over 25 years! Some advice he's giving!

This is an appalling admission, and scares the hell out of the electorate. My grandchildren are at primary school and they're already in debt! This cannot be right!

Furthermore, they're building this white elephant on the same site where the previous, failed, council office was demolished. It was unsafe as it was built on top of old mine shafts, which they're now discovering are even more widespread, (the new build is covering a greater area), and will therefore cost more to fill in. Yet, they're determined to go against all public opinion, and even two very expensive consultations they commissioned advising them against it, one of which gave it only an 11% chance of succeeding!

We held a very public march against the move and they even disputed the police's official figures about the number on the march! This is a city where political apathy is rife, yet we had about 1000 people on a freezing day marching against this move.

They've also been warned, by us, other local politicians, and now Eric Pickles, that the "City News" free paper is being used as a propaganda broadsheet for the Labour party, which is a misappropriation of public funds for political use. This is not the first time this has happened. Their arrogance is beyond belief because, despite being warned about another incident regarding a £25,000 "consultation" into what was reported as being necessary to "improve the city's image", Cllr Pervez let the cat out of the bag with his comment that "We need to understand why we lost the local bye-election", following the resignation of Cllr Sarah Hill, who dared to stand against him for being a part time (24 meetings out of at least 70) leader. For this, she was kicked out of the cabinet and the party. Some democracy!

This is a precis of what could be a small book regarding this "listening" council, who are increasingly making ALL decisions at cabinet level, aided and abetted by Ian Riley at District Office, and merely having them rubber stamped at council level by the overuse of the whip. It's an abuse of authority and we've even been kicked out of the public gallery for daring to express disapproval at the budget meeting. Far from listening to the public - they don't even want to acknowledge us!

The march involved residents from all over the city and was deliberately a single issue, non-political event. The MPs knew about it, yet none contacted us. Their silence speaks volumes.

Alan Barrett
Chair, March on Stoke

Monday, 1 April 2013

Alan Barrett reply to District Auditor

  • Dear Mr. Stocks,

    many thanks for your email which I received today regarding my concerns about the CBD in Stoke-on-Trent and its impact on the town of Stoke.

    First of all, and this may seem a small thing in the light of the bigger picture, but it's important to those of us who live here; there has never been a Stoke Town. It's Stoke upon Trent (no hyphens). The town itself pre-dates the city by many centuries, approaching a millennia and a half, and it's only been renamed by deceit and subterfuge by Kevin Bell when he was regeneration officer for the town. I spoke to him about his dubious tactics to get his own way, and he told me "I don't care". Now, I realise this particular aspect probably falls well outside your remit, but I include it for two reasons. First, I'd appreciate your not using the term Stoke Town, second to show you with just how much disrespect the voters and council tax payers of the city are shown by the UNELECTED officers who don't live here, never have and never will, contribute zero to the wealth of the city, will not have to pay for the borrowing they're inflicting upon the city, and appear to be operating as a ruling group outside the elected council. I have made my concerns know to the labour group and the labour HQ. No-one has seen fit to reply to me.

    Moving on to your actual report, many thanks for providing a copy. I note that on many occasions you mention the cabinet. I didn't see anywhere that the whole council was involved in the decision making process, presumably, they merely act as a rubber stamp to the council's decisions. I appreciate that this council has a huge majority and we all know that expulsions are the norm if any of them vote against the party whip, which is used far too regularly in my opinion. Surely, as a financial burden to the whole city, the whole council should be involved in discussion about this loan, not merely the ten people with a vested interest in keeping their power base?

    The consultations you mention were carried out AFTER the decision was made, and the illegally named "Mandate for Change", which has no mandate for this move, nor the loan, as it was never put before the electorate, is trotted out as a mantra by the whole Labour party, as though this is the panacea for all problems. Again, public money being used to promote an illegal agenda.

    Further, issuing a document is NOT consultation, especially as it's well known that most people don't read such documents and as I said, the decisions had already been made before the publication. In my opinion, consultation takes place BEFORE a decision is made, especially with public finances.

    Furthermore, we've been told constantly, particularly by the deputy leader, Cllr Shotton, that we have to "consolidate the buildings management", meaning we all have to move to Hanley, because we have far too many council offices, yet the report clearly states the provision of council offices in the towns. There is a dire hypocrisy here, and it needs to be fully explained.

    I also note with great interest your comment -

    "I recommend that the Council:
    reviews its CBD transition management plan covering the logistics of the transition,
    customer access and service hub plans and the full requirement for buildings. This plan
    should be shared with members; and
    reassess its overall project management arrangements and ensures that it has sufficient
    resources to oversee the projects."

    Sufficient resources would indeed be the issue. So far, there is nothing at all apart from "29 expressions of interest", which is as nebulous as you can get, in the potential sale of the Stoke site. You've also expressed concern that the time to create the regeneration needed in Stoke upon Trent has no clear committal. I contend that this is a deliberate policy by the council.

    Some of us have very long memories and can recall the wonderful Victorian market in Stoke being burned down "accidentally". They did nothing to rebuild it for ten years while Hanley was, even back then, built into the shopping centre. They put the A500 in, deliberately cutting Stoke off from Hanley and all the developments they're suggesting for Stoke involve new roads etc travelling from the railways station AWAY from Stoke, to Hanley.

    We've been throwing millions of pounds at Hanley for decades, and it's still awfully difficult to get to and to park in, with no discernible proof that it's working as a policy for improving the WHOLE city.

    Raising business rates in a recession is muddled think at best, expecting to attract new businesses to relocate there when it will cost their employees about £1000 a year just to park in Hanley, (there appears to be very little provision plan for employee car parking), is short-sightedness on a monumental scale, and to have a Central BUSINESS District with only 3 tenants listed thusfar, and none of them BUSINESSES, (the council, the library and the police station), is staggeringly bewildering in their "Field of Dreams" mentality: - if you build it, they will come. Really?

    The bus station, much needed, 20 years overdue, 6 months behind even that schedule, badly sited, poorly planned and far too small, is at least a step in the right direction. However, you also mention that work on the City Sentral (sic) should be in tandem with the CBD. I would ask you to delve deeper into Realis and Genr8, to see just how poor their credit ratings are, and how many developments of this magnitude have come in on time or without complaint. Those of us campaigning against the move of the Civic Centre to Hanley have done our research, and it's frightening!

    There is a long history of multiple shopping centres in Hanley, including on the site of the proposed new one, and in every case, without exception, one of them has failed. Again, I remind you that NOT ONE anchor tenant is firmed up on a project that's been at least 2 years in the marketing.

    Sadly, it makes bleak reading and the future of our city is clearly not in good hands under the present administration. They are not listening, and by your own report, have much to do to gain any public trust at all. I realise your role is that of ensuring proper procedures are followed and public spending done appropriately, but given all I've stated above, surely you must have serious cause for concern. The consultations of two very major reports appear to have been ignored, presumably because they express very serious concerns about the viability of the move of the civic offices from Stoke to Hanley.

    All in all, there are still many concerns, even fears, about the cavalier approach the council and its officers are taking in a time of austerity, shrinking demand for retail outlets and the disturbing lack of business interest in this project. I urge you to please look again at the proposed move and its implications for the whole city.

    Yours sincerely,

    Alan Barrett

District Auditor letter to City Council

Dear John

Central Business District

I am writing with regard to the Council's proposed development of the Central Business District (CBD) and the Council's plans to relocate to Hanley to become the "anchor tenant" for the CBD.
The proposed development of the CBD is a subject of significant interest to local residents, and I have received a number of queries with regard to the development. The issues raised with me can be summarised in three main areas:

  • the Council's rationale for the CBD, and the future use of the Council's current offices;
  • the impact of the CBD, and the move of the Council offices, on the Council's revenue and capital expenditure; and
  • the impact of CBD and the move of the Council offices to Hanley on Stoke town centre.

My role is not to question the policy decisions made by the Council. I am required to consider whether the Council has followed its procedures in making policy decisions, and whether it has taken into account all reasonable information when making its decision. I am also required to comment on whether the Council is operated in an efficient, economic and effective way.

I set out below my views on three main areas raised by local electors below.

My review is based on information provided by officers and the review of relevant documents, reports and minutes.

I would be grateful if you could bring this letter to the attention of members, and if the Council could respond to the recommendations I have set out in this letter.

Rationale for the CBD
I am satisfied that there is a clear rationale for the development of the CBD.

The Council's rationale is based on its desire to, and the perceived need to, drive regeneration in both the city centre and the wider conurbation of Stoke on Trent. Regeneration is a legitimate activity for the Council and I am satisfied that the Council has appropriate legal powers to support the regeneration of Stoke on Trent.

Economic comparators provided by the Council indicate that the city is underperforming economically in comparison to similar cities. The economic analysis provides a sound basis for the Council to take action to regenerate the city. The Council has clearly set out its objectives for regenerating the city and has consulted widely on its proposals, most recently through the "Mandate for Change" programme.

The Council's decision to focus on developing a 'city centre' in Hanley is a key element of the its regeneration strategy. Officers have set out in papers to the Council and its committees that the development of a city centre is necessary to generate growth. This is supported by independent research commissioned by the Council and is supported by the experience of other towns and cities.

The CBD proposal is part of a properly formulated plan for Hanley. The CBD proposals do not exist in isolation, this is part of a larger regeneration scheme including retail development in the city which is being progressed by the "City Sentral" shopping centre. This is consistent with the independent research which links retail development and increased footfall from office development to the incentive for businesses to take up office accommodation in a vibrant and developing location.

I note that a significant body of opinion disagrees with the creation of a city centre in Hanley and wish to retain the concept of the "six towns". These views have been discussed and debated in public at Council meetings on 6 September 2012 and 24 January 2013. I am therefore satisfied that the Council has considered these views in setting its policy.

Local residents have also highlighted that the move to the CBD project carries with it a degree of risk, particularly that the Council will not be able to dispose of its current headquarters in Stoke Town and that it will fail to accelerate the wider redevelopment and therefore fail to have the expected impact on Hanley. Local residents have also commented that the expenditure on the CBD could be used for other regeneration projects. Again, these views have been discussed and debated in public meetings on 6 September 2012 and 24 January 2013. I am therefore satisfied that the Council has broadly considered the risks to itself and the community in setting its policy.

On this basis I would not propose to challenge the decision made by the Council. However, I would be grateful if you could bring the following points to the attention of members:

  • Local residents have raised concerns that the Council is vacating offices that are 'fit for purpose' and that the expenditure being incurred is unnecessary. A report from the Council's advisors dated 31 May 2011 supports proposals for the relocation of the Council comprising a partial move to the CBD but retaining other "core operational property" including the Town Hall and Civic centre in Stoke. These proposals have subsequently changed to moving all services to the CBD and disposing of the Stoke site. The reasons for this change in the Council's proposals relate primarily to the opportunity to improve customer services through a new localities hub/modern central lending library, and to enhance regeneration value. There is also the potential to generate additional savings by consolidating all staff on one site and from the sale of the civic Centre and town Hall. I have the following concerns in this area:
  1. The Council has not yet agreed what other properties will be needed to deliver customer access points (customer hubs), and which can be disposed of. There are clear risks to the revenues savings forecast and the overall revenue and capital financial impact of the scheme if the Council does not vacate the Civic Centre and Town Hall, and other Council properties. However, I note that a 'localities review' has commenced and will report the options to Cabinet in April/May 2013
  2. Plans for the future use of the Council's current council offices are unclear. The redevelopment of the site is dependent on the wider regeneration schemes for Stoke Town which I comment on later. At present there is a significant risk that these premises will be vacant for a considerable period
  • There may be accessibility issues to the CBD. There is relatively poor road access to the Hanley location, and the railway station is in Stoke. The Council has proposed road developments to improve the approaches and the new Hanley bus station has now been completed. However, the Council will need to deliver the road improvements and improve the connectivity between Hanley and the railway station in Stoke if it is to meet the objectives set
  • The success of the CBD and the 'City Sentral ' project both focus on Hanley and the establishment of a city centre. Both projects are more likely to achieve the regeneration sought by the Council if the developments progress in parallel. The Council needs to continue to engage with the developers of 'City Sentral' to facilitate progress. The Council also needs to consider the potential impact of further delay to the "City Sentral" project on the CBD development, for example on the attractiveness of the development to potential occupiers and the timing of future phases of the development. This needs to be built into the risk management process. One potential occupier for the CBD has been identified and the Council needs to focus on attracting other businesses to the development.

On the basis of my review I recommend that:

  • the 'localities report' setting out options for the future property requirements of the Council, and future customer access points is presented to Cabinet at the earliest opportunity. The report should clearly set out the future revenue and property costs of the various options
  • a report is prepared for members setting out the different options and costs relating to the sale, letting or 'mothballing' of the Town Hall and Civic Centre
  • a report is presented to cabinet setting out the actions proposed to improve the accessibility of the CBD and City Sentral
  • regular reports are presented to cabinet on the progress in implementing CBD and City Sentral, the other locality changes, and the realisation of the strategic vision for the City.

Impact of the CBD, and the move of the Council offices on the Council's revenue and capital expenditure

I note that minimising the financial cost of the CBD is only one of the objectives considered of the Council, and that the regeneration of the city is the prime objective. I have therefore considered the information reported to the Council, and whether this allows members to understand the full revenue and capital costs of the project. I have set out my comments below.

The most significant part of the cost of the project relates to the borrowing undertaken by the Council. This cost may be reduced significantly by the capital receipts from other properties (as the Council rationalises its estate and moves staff to the CBD). The potential range of capital costs are:

  • initial enabling works and initial capital cost of build, range £43.4 million to £47 million
  • capital receipts, range £8.9 million to £20.4 million
  • net borrowing, range £23.0 million to £38.1 million.

I am satisfied that these costs and the associated revenue costs of the borrowing have been reported to members. Financial projections indicate that the borrowing is affordable.

The above costs include capital costs of designing the interior, completing associated fixtures and fittings, and the associated information technology costs. There are other capital and revenue costs associated with this project. These include costs of archiving and relocation of staff to the CBD. The Council has also made assumptions with regard to capital and revenue savings, for example, from asset rationalisation and from net increases to business rates income from other phases of development. These costs and savings are variable and may significantly impact on the overall cost of the CBD. These costs have been shared separately with Cabinet but have not been consolidated into a report to members detailing the variables impacting on the scheme and the potential cost range. As the plans are now well progressed it would be timely to produce such a report.

I also note the following areas that may impact on the overall cost, and these challenges should be emphasised for members:

  • Designs for both buildings have been made public and designs for the first building have secured planning approval. Much has been said about the desire for an "iconic building" and the need for high quality buildings and environment to attract potential tenants. These plans have been discussed in detail with Cabinet. When the procurement stage of the CBD build is complete it is important that the options and relevant costs of the build are reported to members following receipt of tenders (due 28 March 2013).
  • Details of the occupancy of the buildings are still to be finalised. As highlighted in the first section, there are a number of questions to be resolved including the number and location of "customer hubs" across the city in addition to a central hub located in CBD.
  • The relocation to CBD will involve the vacation of the Town Hall and Civic Centre. The 'one stop shop' and library will remain in Stoke. The Council's plans involve the disposal of the Town Hall and Civic Centre but if this is not achieved quickly there will be additional costs of maintaining and securing the complex.

I note that Cabinet is already aware of the costs of the scheme. However, to support future decision making on the localities and customer hubs, I recommend that a consolidated paper
is presented to members summarising the capital costs and receipts and revenue costs and savings. The report should include best and worst case scenarios for both revenue and capital costs.

The impact of CBD and the move of the Council offices to Hanley on Stoke town centre

The Council has discussed and debated the impact of the CBD on Stoke town in public meetings on 6 September 2012 and 24 January 2013. The Council has acknowledged that the move from Stoke will have a short term impact on the town centre but considers that the move of the Council offices to Hanley offers a significant opportunity to regenerate Stoke town.

From my review of the available documentation I understand that:

  • Stoke town was the subject of a master plan approved by cabinet in November 2011.
  • The Council acquired the Spode site when the company closed in order to secure control of a key area within the town. The Spode site was identified in the master plan as the basis for regeneration of the town.
  • The Council's subsequent decision to relocate all services currently operating from within the Civic complex to the CBD will add to the available site with the inclusion of the Civic Centre, Town Hall, Kings Hall, Gordon House and Kingsway Car Park (the Stoke site). This is in addition to Swift House and the Wharf Place car park adjacent to the University Quarter
  • The Council believes that this will strengthen the development potential of the sites.
  • The Spode site contains a number of nationally and locally listed historic buildings most of which will need to be retained and this may restrict the interest of potential developers.
  • The Council are developing a site marketing strategy and are seeking a development partner in order to progress the future of the site.
  • Members have had the opportunity to debate the future of Stoke town centre as part of the CBD assessment.
  • Soft market testing of the Spode site has shown potential interest from developers. This includes 29 expressions of interest.
  • Legal and technical consultants have been appointed to provide advice on the options for the disposal of the Stoke site
  • A report on the disposal of the Stoke site has been drafted and will be reported to members in the near future.

It is clear from my review that the Council has a long term vision for the future development of Stoke town with a clear view of role that the town can play within the whole city. The plans extend beyond the regeneration of the Spode site and town centre to cover the whole Stoke neighbourhood.

I also note that the Council has continued to develop Stoke Town including implementing the Campbell Place Public Realm development. The Council continues to work closely with the private and public sector to bring forward other developments within the masterplan. The private and residential developments in Stoke town include the planned conversion of warehousing on Coronation Court, the recent transfer of some University departments to Stoke, the development of new student accommodation in the former Lomax building, and the planned development of the former Victoria Ground and former council depot for new homes. A building company has also secured approval for an office development at Campbell Road.

Although the Council recognises "the urgent need for action in Stoke Town" there is only limited information about timing. The first proposal with a clear date, the creation of a temporary new square outside Kings Hall, proposed for winter 2011/12, has not been delivered. I also note that the Council has not formally revisited the Stoke Town Masterplan to reflect the move of the administrative centre from Stoke to Hanley. It has, however, reflected how the proposed changes would impact on the Masterplan in the brochure produced for market testing.

While the Council remains positive about the future of Stoke there are no clear plans for either the Town Hall, Kings Hall, Civic Centre or Spode site. If the soft market testing does not prove reliable there remains a risk that the area would not be redeveloped in the near future. It is important that members understand this risk and that plans for regenerating the area are progressed as a matter of urgency.

I recommend that regular reports are provided to members on the Council's progress in developing and implementing its plans for regenerating Stoke Town.

Project Management

The proposals for the regeneration of the city, including CBD, City Sentral, Public realm and Stoke town comprise a series of major projects involving both the public and private sectors. The Council now has an appropriate governance structure in place to oversee this transition via the People, Place and Transformational Change Boards.

Recognising how critical the success of these plans is to the future of the city I suggest the Council reviews its project management arrangements to ensure it has sufficient capacity to maximise the prospects of successful delivery.

I recommend that the Council:

  • reviews its CBD transition management plan covering the logistics of the transition, customer access and service hub plans and the full requirement for buildings. This plan should be shared with members; and
  • reassess its overall project management arrangements and ensures that it has sufficient resources to oversee the projects.


The Council's plans for the regeneration of the city are aimed at addressing many years of decline. Such a programme will always carry some degree of risk and will deliver results over an extended timescale.

I am satisfied that the Council has followed its procedures in making the decisions to develop the CBD, and move its offices to Hanley. I am also satisfied that sufficient information has been presented to members to allow them to make their decision. However, this should be enhanced further by greater consolidation of financial reporting.

Yours sincerely

cc Peter Bates