Here’s a letter to the Advertiser in response to David Renard’s praise of the regeneration of Cavendish Square.
David Renard’s praise in the Advertiser for the Cavendish Square regeneration completely contradicts the lived experience of the local community. The fact is that we were promised an indoor shopping centre. In the consultation it was agreed that the square would have a roof over it and the shopping centre would be locked up at night. What we got was a square without drainage which floods when it rains heavily, a car park with the decaying remnants of a fence which does not safely separate cars and pedestrians, and inadequate lighting which makes it unsafe at night. The variety of shops is worse than the old square. The developer left the old Co-op site derelict. It took us two years to get it tarmacked, creating a second car park.
The irony of David Renard’s reference to money for the Library is not lost on the community since his administration proposed to end support for it. It only remained as part of the core council service because of the community campaign.
The council allowed the developer to escape without delivering its commitments. Once it gave the land away it washed its hands of the problems. Sorry, we don’t own it was the stock response. The various private companies that have come and gone have only been interested in the rent they collect, treating the local community with disdain.
We recently learned that the Council has, after a fashion, become interested in Cavendish Square again. They bought back land they used to own, for more than £3 million: the land on which the new Co-op sits, the associated car park and the pharmacy. Their rationale was the rent which is nearly £200,000 a year. They could do the same with the other shops and the floor of the square, for half the price they paid, and have the rents of more than £150,000. If they owned it then we could resolve the immediate problems. At the very least they could buy the floor of the square to enable them to put in the drainage and ensure that it is properly maintained.
There is money outstanding from a bond set aside for putting the roof on. With no prospect of a roof being built, local organisations managed to get the council to agree to use some of this money to tarmac the old Co-op site. There is more than £80,000 left which can be used to relay the square and put in drainage. The problem is that if the council was to do this under the current ownership they would be subsidising a fly-by-night private company, shown at Companies House as “dormant”. There is no guarantee that they would maintain it and in any case, they could easily sell it on again.
Rather than assessing buying back this land according to a ‘commercial’ criteria, the council should accept its responsibility towards the local community who they have seriously let down. We did not get what we were promised and the square is not the focus for the local community that it used to be.
That’s why we have called a demonstration on June 22nd at 10 a.m. at the square to demand that the council accepts its responsibility to resolve the long-standing problems.
Martin Wicks, Secretary Parks & East Walcot Community Forum