Well, it seems congratulations are in order – Steve Craddock, UKIP councillor for Brownhills and the man whose holiday was more important than political control of a borough governing 269,000 people – has apparently brought us the bacon.
Or it could be a sack of magic beans, it’s hard to tell the difference.
Last week (24th November 2014) at Walsall Council there was a meeting of the bogglingly titled Business, Employment and Local Economy Scrutiny and Performance Panel, which was to consider a report on the possibility of compulsory purchase of Ravens Court, the embarrassingly derelict shopping precinct in Brownhills.
Ravens Court is privately owned by Mayfair based property company Lightquote, who having done a deal to sell the rotting edifice to Tesco for a new store in 2010, fell foul of the retail behemoth when they abandoned their plan.
The dingy, derelict square was steadily vacated, and still stands five years later, a testament to regeneration failure.
Steve Craddock, UKIPs man on the ground gained councillorship in Brownhills last May, and has decided to take on the problem as his own, bless him. Despite previous petitions to request Walsall Council compulsory purchase the site, Steve’s big idea was yet another, as suggested earlier in the year by the Tory prospective councillor Vivienne Aston – and sunk in the water by John Bird earlier this year.
This was detailed in a report in the Express & Star on the day of the meeting:
Action to be taken against run-down Brownhills shopping centre if redevelopment plans not submitted
Enforcement action will be taken against owners of a run-down shopping centre in Brownhills if plans to redevelop the site are not submitted within six months, it has been proposed.
Ravenscourt Shopping Centre was at the centre of a failed multi-million pound supermarket revamp and now more than 500 people have signed a petition calling on Walsall Council to compulsory purchase the site with a view to ‘re-develop in keeping with Brownhills High Street’.
The petition, submitted by Brownhills councillor Stephen Craddock, was due to be discussed by the council’s business, employment and local economy scrutiny and performance panel at a meeting tonight.
Now, councillors are recommended to instruct officers to continue to work with the owners but to serve the planning enforcement notice if a planning application is not submitted within six months.
The compulsory purchase order to acquire the site would cost about £3 million, before anything was even done with it, and Walsall Council don’t have that kind of money – although, as is normal in such cases, they could well facilitate a deal if something was on the table. To buy the centre without a plan would be madness, and the authority just doesn’t have the cash.
It’s funny how small state Monetarist Capitalists like Vivienne Aston and Steve Craddock don’t believe the state should be involved in the free market until the free market they love bites them or their own communities on the backside, as it is doing here… then they’re all for public money bailing them out.
The phrase Merchant Bankers springs to mind.
At the moment, the site owners are under threat of legal action by Walsall Council, to force them to repair and return Ravens Court to good order. This is from the report to the committee:
Section 215 (Amenity Notice)
Planning officers have corresponded with the owners agents for several years regarding the appearance of the site but as negotiations failed to produce a solution on site it was considered necessary for the Council to take formal enforcement action to address impact upon amenity. Consequently a report was presented to the Planning Committee on 14th April 2014 under section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which required:
- Remove from the land to an authorised place of disposal all litter and fly tipped rubbish.
- Repair or replace all of the existing timber security boarding on all elevations of the buildings and paint the exterior of the boards with a minimum of two coats of British Standard colour BS 18 B25 (Dark Grey). Ensure all openings are securely fixed to make certain the security of the building is not compromised.
- Repair or replace all weathered fascias along the frontage of the overhanging canopies above the shop fronts.
- Repair or replace all weathered fascia boarding on the front, side and rear elevations of the building. Paint the exterior of the fascia boarding with a minimum of two coats of external white paint.
- Ensure all of the poorly maintained disused advertisement signage is either removed or repaired.
- Remove all graffiti from the roller shutters and all external walls of the site.
The notice has not been served as the owner’s agents have met with officers and members in order to explore potential redevelopment of the site. However an appeal against the issue of a Section 215 notice can be made to the Magistrates Court and could be subject to an application for a full or partial award of the appellant’s costs in making an appeal if it was considered that the Council had acted unreasonably in issuing a notice.
Anyway, I digress. The meeting having taken place, at which the site agents presented a letter stating the intention of the owners to submit a planning application for redevelopment in 2015 – therefore, the Council held off the legal action under threat that if an application was not submitted within six months, they’re progress the legal action.
Not to be outdone, Steve was back in the paper the very next day, claiming responsibility for that, too – Steve says he’s been working with former Tory regeneration bumbler Adrian Andrew on this, although quite what they’ve actually done is a mystery.
So it seems Steve was apparently campaigning to have the council buy the site at the same time that he claims to have been sweet talking the owners into redeveloping it.
Interesting to see such a close relationship between Walsall Tories and UKIP. That’s instructive. It’s doubly ironic, since many feel Adrian Andrew demonstrated his previous skill with the Tesco deal.
Since before Steve was a councillor, a plan has been talked about – my earliest recollection is January 2014. Walsall Council’s planning team will tell anyone who asks that they’ve already offered maximum concessions to the owners and agents to move any revamp forward. They cannot legally do any more.
Therefore, what the dynamic duo of Andrew and Craddock could possibly do above and beyond the existing offer is a total mystery.
Of course, all that has happened is that the owners have forestalled legal action for 6 months. There is no guarantee of an application, no guarantee that having submitted one that will be acted upon. Lightquote have had 3 years or more to do this, and come up with it just as they’re threatened with action? They must be praying they can sell the whole lot on – in which case, the whole process starts over. Either way, any development of this site is over a year away at best.
We are apparently to celebrate this achievement.
Meanwhile, the people really making a difference to Ravens court on the ground are Brownhills Town Centre Partnership who’ve bravely obtained donations of paint and equipment from local businesses to spruce the place up for the Christmas Market, for which I salute and thank them. The volunteers that are doing this are truly community spirited and should be publicly thanked.
I wonder if Lightquote donated to this?
Cyrus Vance, eat your heart out, boy…