Railroad wagon

The wheels are in motion, and you've not even been consulted. Democracy in action.

This is a warning. What follows is a verbatim press release from the grey Lubyanka that is Walsall Civic Centre. Anyone who is currently drinking any kind of beverage may wish to take a few seconds to swallow and place their cup somewhere safe. What you’re about to read may well make you splutter…

Walsall Council  PR 4823    19/03/2010    [For Immediate Release]

New council base a ‘brilliant result for taxpayers’

Smart-thinking by Walsall Council has led to them getting a £7 million purpose-build depot for a six figure sum.

More than 400 employees will be based at the new hub in Pelsall Road, Brownhills. The move breathes new life into the former Wagon Automotive works which has been empty for two years.

Costs are being eased thanks to the sale for housing of the current Street Pride depots in Norfolk and Suffolk Place, Bloxwich.

Councillor Mike Bird, Walsall Council Leader, said the move showed real value for money.

He said: “This is excellent news and it’s good to see work progressing well.

“The truth of the matter is that we have negotiated a brilliant result for taxpayers.

“The deal we have struck means that the sale of our existing depots in Norfolk and Suffolk Places has brought the costs down massively.

“This effectively means that we have a £7 million depot and we only have to pay a six figure sum. That’s good business in anyone’s book.”

More than 400 staff will be based at the site which will include office space as well as a base for 52 refuse vehicles and grounds maintenance teams. Social services staff and other teams will also be based at the new hub. The new site will replace the current Street Pride depot which was in need of expensive modernisation in order to meet the 21st century.

Councillor Adrian Andrew, Walsall Council Deputy Leader and cabinet member for regeneration, said that the project also breathes new life into what was a high profile casualty of the recession. He said: “It was a sad day when Wagon Automotive closed but we have worked hard to agree a deal that would bring the site back into use. This is good news for Brownhills and Walsall taxpayers.”

The new depot will be a 21st century home for waste teams to help them do their jobs better, says Councillor Mike Flower, Walslal Council cabinet member for environment.

He said: “It was clear that our current depot needed a lot of money to bring up to scratch. By doing this we have something that we can use for years to come at much reduced cost.

“The current depot is surrounded by houses while the new venture is in an industrial area well away from people’s homes.”

Tony Ryan, Mar City Developments chairman, said: “We are delighted to be working with Walsall Council to deliver this exciting new facility.They have been very professional to work with both members and officers.”

Now I must admit, this one caught me on the hop a little. I’d imagined, that since Mike ‘Blofeld’ Bird was so keen on public consultation, that before the masterplan for the new council depot was enacted, that there would be some kind of planning process or public exploration of the proposals. I would at least have expected some detailing of the financial facts and to see the case for this move to be made to the public – but alas, no. Big Mike knows what’s good for us all, and we’re meekly going to accept it, whether we like it or not.

Left a bit with that digger, if you will.

I blogged about this proposal when news first broke about the prospect of the former Wagon Automotive factory complex becoming a new council depot way back last summer. Since then, contractors have continued to grind most of the buildings into ballast, leaving only the former press shop and offices at the eastern side of the site. The task to render the not inconsiderable fabric of the abandoned automotive plant into rubble has been a huge undertaking. Somebody has clearly paid a massive amount of money to clear the site and deal with the contamination. It’s not the kind of project one commences speculatively.

Notwithstanding the abject spin that is contained in the press release, I’m a bit concerned that our beleaguered leader seems to think we’ve got any faith whatsoever in his council’s ability to judge what’s good for taxpayers. Since they’ve recently found to be incapable of keeping track of simple community funding – which is set to cost the town two and a half million quid in the form of payments back to a less than amused EU – I have little faith that this wheeze, like others that went so wonderfully well, with Fujitsu, Amey and Serco. An excellent deal for road maintenance with Tarmac is already paying dividends, as anyone traversing local roads will no doubt be aware.

It’s also interesting that Marcity have got the land at Norfolk place. That must mean that planners have already agreed to grant permission for whatever the developers want, otherwise they risk being stuck with a white elephant. The most surprising thing of all about this whole saga is the quiescence of the councillors whose constituents will be directly affected by the transfer of some of the heaviest municipal vehicles from a relatively central location to the very outskirts of the borough. How will Marco Longhi, a man never reluctant to pander to the NIMBYS, handle the complaints from pissed-off Pelsallites being woken at 5AM by refuse lorries trundling through the slumbering village? Will the good people of Bloxwich and Brownhills be happy that their early mornings will now be punctuated by the sound of council plant travelling extra mileage for no discernable reason whatsoever?

Far from being a brilliant deal for Walsall taxpayers, I would tenure that this endeavour will end in the same kind of half-baked, costly mess that such money saving deals always seem to result in. After all, these people can’t be trusted with a simple town market, let alone multi-million pound property deals.

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7 Responses to Railroad wagon

  1. Ian Shires says:

    That’s the problem with “Cabinet Style” Administration.

    I’m not usually someone who bangs on about the past but I do think that the “Committee Style” that preceeded it would have meant that the proposals would have got exposed to a more open, democratic system.

    Yes decisions took longer to see the light of day, but I do feel that they were better thought through and understood, and that’s not a bad thing.

  2. rob says:

    i worked for wagon and even we didnt know that was coming we had 15mins on the 19th december 2008 to vacate premises

  3. martin says:

    I bet Tesco have said ‘OK we’ll build a new store IF you can get us more customers.’
    Captain Cluless and his cronies have bluffed and they’ve blustered and they’ve come up with the brainwave of relocating a couple of hundred hapless council emplyees.
    There is nothing else around, so the poor sods will have to go to Tesco for their fags and sarnies; while they’re in there they’ll just pick up a few bits & pieces for tea and drop a couple of litres of petrol in the car while they’re at it.
    Before you know it, they’ll be spending all their (frozen) council wages.

    And yes, it has all come as a bit of a bolt from the blue.
    Why can’t they always move this quickly?

  4. martin says:

    Since reading this earlier I’ve been doing some sums…

    I recon the site of the old depot is about 2.5 hectares (give or take); new housing is generally built at a density of 50dph (dwelling per hectare); that’s the latest guieline, anyway.
    That means 125 new houses (no flats, please note).
    Average UK house price is a shade over £160 grand so 160 x 125 could give £20+million-worth of houses on the depot site.
    Plot value as a proportion of finished house value varies quite a bit, but 33% is a reasonable figure to work with.
    That means the site is worth about 33% of £20 million, or £6.6million (roughly). And that’s if they only build houses, not loads of flats.
    Industrial land, on the other hand, is worth practically fuck-all in comparison.
    What this means is that the site of the old depot is quite valuable; the site of the old Wagon factory probably is not.

    Far from getting a good deal, it looks to me like poor old Captain Clueless has been sold a pig in a poke.
    The old fool should have trousered about £6.6m for the old depot, shelled out a couple of mill for the Wagon site and saved a leisure centre or two with the £4.4m difference.

    Or, he could have bought the Staffordshire Hoard and still had change for a down-payment on a museum to house it in…

  5. Pablo Oplywiss says:

    Far from peoples’ homes? Except the poor folks of the Pelsall Road layby opposite Apex Road & the newer houses at the back of Ryders Hayes the other side of the canal – the noise will travel.

    Pelsall Road is busy at the best of times. The weight of rush hour traffic up towards the Finger Post will only be hindered by extra council traffic. It’s bad enough when some Slovakian driver has a mare trying to access One Stop – with all respect to any Slovakians reading, of course! At least the roads this end may stand more chance of being gritted in the winter.

    The weight limit also means they can’t use Clayhanger as a short cut through to Walsall Wood & beyond. Not that it stops anyone now.

    Mar City are a very aggressive developer around these parts. They are acquiring further sites in Darlaston off Heath Road, & literally kicking tennants off the site as ‘they can’t guarantee the contiuity of essential services’. As soon as they wear the council down with housing application after housing application, up pop the 3 story townhouses with no garden in weeks.

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