Death of a Market Town: “Welcome to Toryville”

“All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.”

Shakespeare

The proposals by Fenland District Council to re-brand community Sports Centres – removing references to local people who have “done good” – was the latest scheme in support of an economic strategy based entirely on the realisation of the commercial value of every asset and opportunity.  The prevailing ideology being that private capital and enterprise will provide success, and by argument the solution to all other problems.  Despite commitments in the past with regard to safeguarding and promotion of  local heritage every formal decision has lead directly, or indirectly, to the contrary.  The failure to restore and use heritage buildings is not just an abject policy failure, it is the best evidence as to the core values of this administration regardless of the recent change of leadership.

I have written previously on my personal objections to the ongoing “developments” throughout Wisbech.  The variety of schemes are united by their lack of empathy towards the heritage a market town, yet do not seem to be part of any joined-up or long-term strategy; and all seem wholly at odds with the natural environment enveloping our town.  No consultation with the community as to how the small community donation required of Tesco might be used – I would have thought that any steps to reduce extra traffic would have been part of initial agreement – but otherwise the town centre should receive the largest donation for what will no doubt be a sickening blow to their existence.

“The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”

Moliere

What continues to astound me is, even if you were persuaded that such developments were in the long-term commercial and social benefit of the town, would you not insist that some of the anticipated financial benefits were “realised” in advance.  You would seek to ensure that the investors in the schemes contributed to improve infrastructure that not only served the community but would help them increase their prosperity too.  For example, with regard to the new shopping mall visitor numbers would surely fall if shoppers are caught in long delays getting in and out of the car parks.

My second concern is the apparent failure to apply any innovation or imagination to encourage “greening” of these projects.  Why is it that driving along Cromwell Road there are so few trees and hedgerows to mask, or at least soften, the sight of alloy panels and glass?  We live amongst some amazing rural views, painted beneath big open skies, and it is CHOSEN that natural habitats and greenery are undesirable?

Image

The new housing too has been seemingly hurried and designed to fulfil only the immediate need.  Houses built atop one another, a rarity of green amongst them, with no obvious innovations on energy efficiency outside of building regulations.   Another wasted opportunity where technologies could be tested, new ideas should have been considered – how many local young people have been employed in even the construction of the new superstores and homes?  The obvious question is “Where will the children play?” – one which requires both a literal response but for which also there is a deeper social consideration in the years ahead.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

Thomas A. Edison

Do not mistake my former opposition as a wrecker.  The developments are now in place, and they have to succeed.  People will have invested jobs and homes into them.  But politicians, and Image

hopefully the wider community, have to do is ensure that there are robust challenges where there are deficiencies and as a matter of priority they are addressed.  There must be steps taken to ensure that the whole of the town benefits economically, we cannot allow any part of our town to sink.

This is not a battle of “progress v nostalgia”.  Whatever is decided I believe should be underpinned by the desire to celebrate our yesterday but planning for the future.  We should embrace technology and invest in infrastructure but always ensuring that we count the non-financial costs too whether that is nature and society.  At the same time, remedial action and resources have to be found to promote the town centre – and I will suggest that the first step is to provide some vision for what this is now to be.  Let us also take positive steps to encourage better engagement with the community; this first step I have argued should be to move schools to the heart of helping to deliver local projects.

Image

Whether village, town or city trees provide numerous environmental benefits such as mitigating air pollution and greenhouse gases, reducing storm-water runoff and improving water quality.  At every opportunity where it can be safely done we should plant trees along roads and green spaces.  As I have written elsewhere (and I take huge influence from Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City philosophy) research has shown that trees and green space enhance the local economy and provide health and social benefits.  They encourage people to be more active and have a positive impact on children’s psychological development

 “Ambition is the germ from which all growth of nobleness proceeds.”

Oscar Wilde

I understand the difficulty in convincing the community to embrace a long-term vision, and it can be argued that people chose the path which has been chosen by electing and re-electing the administration which has delivered this. But maybe, people did not understand what was being proposed?  Maybe, there is an agreement that even if partially right there are things which need to be addressed and improved.  One point which needs to be under-lined, and this is a personal view, is that without a plan and resources the town centre will fold.  Unless there is a viable and vibrant commercial element, the remaining cultural attractions will be lost too.

 “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

George Bernard Shaw

The new plan needs to encompass “old” and “new” town and provide a structure which requires both corporate business and independent business to work together.  The developers and landlords will hopefully see that the success of Wisbech is greater and more substantive than the success of their venture alone.  I do believe this might require a cultural shift for some but that is where political leadership becomes invaluable.  It is infrastructure which holds back Wisbech.  The delivery of decent roads, rail and cycle lanes

Imagewould go a long way to opening up opportunity, trade, and employment.  This is what should have been negotiated at the start, but certainly needs dragging up now.  We need trees re-planted, we need roads and junctions upgraded and changed, we need investment in carbon-free energy…..we can do all of this now!

The current plan – to bring in hundreds of low-skilled and low-paid jobs – to an area which it cab be argued is in receipt of social problems because of this approach to feed factories and agriculture previously is maybe viable for a developing large town.  It is not suitable for a market town if it is to retain any residual desire to be a market town, and certainly not one without major infrastructure in place. Welcome to Toryville.

We do not, or should not want success at any cost.  In future let us ensure we are both innovative and ethical.  Let us ensure that in future sustainability is at the core of any plan; but also the respect of heritage and culture, and hold a greater ambition for both our town and children.

Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.”

Pedro Calderon de la Barca

Image

Advertisements

One comment

  1. Interesting and thoughtful piece.

    You could argue that the new developments do pay towards infrastructure with their hefty Section 106 payments, though. I don’t really have an opinion on that, except that I believe that was what S106 was designed to deal with?

    I agree in your argument about taking a “longer term vision” though I expect we would disagree as to the exact details of that. : ) However, I’m not sure I’d agree that “carbon free energy” is part of that, unless by “longer term” you mean “bankrupt.”

    Finally, it’s unfair to say that new housing developments don’t try anything innovative. Quite a number are fitted with clever insulation, solar panels, double glazing and the like. But they are broadly anticipating the environment and building homes they think they can sell. It would be a bit pointless to build hundreds of homes and have them sit empty. Building interests don’t always get it right, of course, but I suspect they have a better understanding of what might sell than you and I, because that’s their business.

    Enjoying your blog. Well written and intelligent. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s