Beginnings of another New Squares debacle?

Date: Tuesday 29th May 2018

Sir, Dr Ford (Herald, 19th May) challenges Eden District Council (EDC) to be open to new ideas. In doing so he questions whether EDC understands the co-ordination of development with real growth that is essential for a balanced vision for the future. He is right to do so and it will be interesting to see how EDC responds.

You report council leader Mr Beaty as saying that EDC will consult widely. May I remind readers that EDC consulted “widely” over New Squares and, in announcing at a public meeting the outcome of one poll of public opinion, the figures were manipulated to attach spoiled papers and abstainers to those in favour of the scheme and thus produce a result for the development.

They ignored public criticism and the other poll circulating at the time which showed a heavy majority against. Empty shops were predicted and empty shops we got.

It would appear from your report that EDC has placed the matter of future development in the hands of management consultants. Inevitably they will consult commercial interests and property developers. What they come up with remains to be seen, but in this I see the beginnings of another New Squares debacle.

Individuals and commercial interests can profit from development and retain public respect provided that the development is based on a broad view of community and economic need. We didn’t need New Squares or a new supermarket, and they were imposed on us without making the case. It was this that caused the collapse of community trust Dr Ford refers to.

Management consultants think within a narrow envelope, constrained by their client’s instructions. The wider public consultation on the needs to be met by the proposed scheme should take place before the management consultants and council’s final report is written and not after publication.

The EDC brief to the consultants should be published immediately and in full so the issues are shared by all and amended in the face of valid criticism.

The discussion should be open and, in a matter like this that affects us all, nothing should be hidden under the heading of “commercial in confidence”. The final report should be delayed until full public consultation is complete. There is no rush, so sufficient time should be given to each of these stages. Yours etc,