Feb 2014: The state of play

As High Streets go into freefall and even Christmas is now dominated commercially by online sales; and as Debenhams hits the news with poor performance figures, Cheshire East Council is still committed to its major Macclesfield town centre development, centring on a Debenhams, a multiplex cinema, a multi storey car park and a whole pile of new retail outlets.

Wake Up Macc was born out of the anger felt by so many locals at this perverted vision of our town. A soulless development, identical to hundreds of other towns, placed slap bang in the middle of a vibrant community and a stunning landscape.

Treacle Town 2010, Ghost Town 2030.

Throughout the planning process, we have sought information. Cheshire East’s stated commitment to transparency has not been apparent in their handling of our requests for further details. Our initial Freedom of Information request in September 2012 for details of the contract arrangements between the council and the developer was met with the production of heavily redacted (blacked out) documents. Perseverance, however, paid off, and we now have significant information that we did not have a year ago. Notably, disclosure was given piecemeal, with the final chunk coming only after CEC had issued its written planning consent on the 6 September 2014.

Read what we know about timescales and other contract details

What do we think?

Wake Up Macc still believes that it is absurd to be discussing such a radical expansion of town retail spaces at exactly the moment when high streets sales are plummeting.

But the concreteness of what we now know makes some things very much worse. A central part of our argument rests on a recent, tangible re-vitalisation of the town: it began with the revival of the Barnaby Festival but has since spilled out into various festivals and, centrally, the highly successful Treacle Market. Alongside this has come a whole new crop of bars and cafes, new catalysts such as Totally Locally, and a distinct upturn in roads like Sunderland Street and Church Street.

More, the existing retail streets have certainly witnessed shop closures; but Chestergate, to take one example, has thrived very much better than its equivalents in many market towns. Macclesfield is, still, teeming with unusual retail outlets: these may have faced the very obvious clouds of a recession-hit country, and we have not been unaffected by the massacre of high streets resulting from the rise of on-line sales: but we stand a lot taller than many other towns our size.

But just how will these businesses cope when others are offered ‘incentives’ to move into the new buildings? How will Chestergate fare when its competitors are offered inducements not available to them? What will happen to the new bars and cafes – so many of them a credit to innovative individuals prepared to put their own money into the town – when Frankie and Benny’s and Prezzo (the only two we are aware of who have confirmed) and others move in with rent-free period courtesy of Wilson Bowden?

And what about Cinemac? Here is a Macc business par excellence, a one person operation that successfully brought cinema back to the town. Having invested in a decent sound system and, just recently, in the technology for relaying live productions, Cinemac is now faced with the prospect of competing with a Cineworld cinema that will be given a cool £1.3 million towards the costs of setting up in Macclesfield.

What we want is a town that organically grows in precisely the manner in which it is presently growing: not as an imposed vision that makes us look like everywhere else. We are certainly not opposed to change, which is why we approved of the proposed Castle Street development centring on the Cheshire Building Society. We know, however that the uncertainty relating to what happens next – the development could take until 2019 and might not even get built at all – will act as a brake on any other development. We are facing a long winter of planning blight; and the so-called spring of Wilson Bowden’s plan may never, in reality, be realised; and would be damning to the town’s identity if it were.

We will keep monitoring developments and sharing what we find.

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Adopt a Tub

Your chance to help brighten up the town centre.

The Macclesfield Guild and Chamber of Trade have supplied and been maintaining 17 floral pots and planters around the town.  Now they’re looking for help and asking for individuals or businesses to adopt a tub.  Plants will be supplied, so all you need to do is watering and weeding plus a bit of dead-heading and drinks can/crisp packet removal.

If you can help – get in touch with Val lloyd at erpsval21@hotmail.co.uk

We wait to see who can produce the best planter in town next summer!

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Are we about to lose our chance to vote on governance for Macclesfield?

We’ve just heard that a decision about the future of governance for Macclesfield could be made at a council Community Governance Review sub-committee meeting tomorrow morning, Wed 16th October.

Citing the low levels of public response to the governance consultation earlier in the year, the governance sub committee paperwork indicates that committee members have the option of voting tomorrow for the option of no change but with an enhanced Local Services Committee ( a group made up of councillors who represent Macclesfield wards in Cheshire East council).

This would remove the chance for us as members of the public to vote on whether we would prefer a town council.

It is particularly concerning that this option of voting now for no change is being suggested to councillors given that the minutes of the previous meeting show the sub-committee itself had doubts about the effectiveness of the public consultation so far conducted and the information available to the public.

For this reason, Committee members had resolved:

1. That the consultation information be reformatted to include two options in respect of no change with the retention of an enhanced Local Service Delivery Committee; and a Town Council for Macclesfield, and that specific examples of services, functions, and the associated costs be drawn from existing town councils.

2. That the Communications Team prepare a plan on how to make better use of a wider range of media.

Read the papers for tomorrow’s meeting here

If you want to make your feelings known, you can go to the meeting and speak in the public speaking time allowed at the start. To ask a question, however, you would have needed to give three days ‘ notice.

The meeting is to be held in the meeting room at Macclesfield Leisure Centre at 10.30, Wednesday 16th Oct.

 

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Secretary of State rejects call in request

The Secretary of State has rejected our request for him to consider the application.  This means the planning meeting decision holds and the development can now proceed.

Read our request

Read the response

This is disappointing but not unexpected. The concept of ‘localism’ does not appear to extend to actually listening to local people.

There are still many reasons why the development may not proceed; most signifcantly, the need for the developers to find funding.

 

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Have your say about governance for Macclesfield

Macclesfield is the only area in Cheshire East which is now “unparished”.  This means that whereas even the smaller villages around the area have a body to represent them, Macclesfield does not.  This means that not only are decisions affecting us  made by councillors who do not represent us and do not know the town, but also there is no Macclesfield body for those outside councillors to consult.

The good news is that  Cheshire East Council is embarking on a Community Governance Review for the town. This will consider options for improved community engagement and local democracy.

They have planned a series of public meetings over the next few weeks to explain more about the current situation, what the options are, what could happen next and how to have your say. Go along and get involved:
• Wed 3 July 7- 8.30pm Hurdsfield Community Primary School SK10 2LW
• Thurs 4 July 7-8.30pm Weston Community Centre SK11 8RL
• Mon 8 July 7-8.30pm Broken Cross Club SK11 8TU
• Tues 9 July 7-8.30pm Ivy Bank Primary School SK11 8PB
• Wed 10 July 7-8.30 pm Tytherington Club SK10 2JP
• Thurs 11 July 7-8.30 pm Puss Bank Primary School SK10 1QJ
• Fri 12 July 12 -3pm Macclesfield Library SK10 1EE

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3,000 objections lodged

Email sent to all councillors 2/6/2013

Dear Councillor

This email from a council officer in response to a point made by a member of the public confirms that over 3,000 objections to the Silk Street plans have been received.
“Please note that whilst your comments will be taken into consideration, it is not Council policy to respond to every letter of representation received against an application due to the resourceimplications of this- as an example, we have received over 3000 letters of representation against the application and whilst all these comments have been duly logged and will be takeninto consideration, we cannot respond to every one. I must stress that a recommendation on the application has not yet been made and that the planning team dealing with the application will be considering all of the comments made.”

Given that few families lodge more than one objection even if several family members feel strongly, this figure could well represent more than one in eight Macclesfield households. This is a phenomenal number of people to have taken the time to write, particularly given that many of the objectors provide lengthy letters giving detailed reasons for their objection and citing why the application is not in the economic,social or environmental best interests of the town and does not therefore comply with planning guidance as given in the National Planning Policy Framework.

We note with interest the planning officer’s comment that the planning team will be considering all the comments made. We hope very much that this will indeed be the case. The developers give us predictions of economic growth based on statistical models. People who live in and know the town give predictions of the impact of the development based on a genuine kmowlege of the local economy and community.

Please listen to them.

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Decision Date Allows no Time for Public Scrutiny of Critical Information

Letter sent to Council Leader Michael Jones on 24th May and copied to all Cheshire East councillors. No reply received as yet.

Dear Councillor Jones

We note the 12th of June has now been confirmed as the date for the Strategic Planning Board meeting at which a decision on the Macclesfield Silk Street plans will be made.

Whilst no-one wants to delay this decision any longer than necessary, we have serious concerns about the timing of this meeting for the following reasons.
Firstly, you will be aware that the Information Commissioner has ordered Cheshire East to disclose key information relating to the development including the full details of the contract between the council and the developers. We now understand the council has until the 10th June to release this information.  Should those responsible leave the release until the last minute, that gives just one day for the public and councillors to scrutinise the information.  Should the council decide to appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decision, we will not know the outcome for several months after this date.

Secondly, the council’s retail report relating to the development has not yet been released into the public domain although we understand it has been completed. We are told this report will probably be made public some time during the week commencing 27th May and that the document runs to several hundred pages including all the statistical information.  Again, a meeting on the 12th June does not give adequate time for scrutiny, particularly given the complexity of the information the report will contain.

For these reasons, we request that:

a) Both the retail report and the information covered by the Information Commissioner’s decision are released urgently.
a) The SPB meeting is delayed until such time as all the relevant information is in the public domain and both those making the decision and those on whose behalf the decision is being made have had time to scrutinise it fully.

If Cheshire East continues with this date for the meeting despite the short time frame, then it can expect to lose any remaining trust the electorate may still have in its ability to handle planning issues honestly and openly.

In the light of your stated desire for transparency, I trust you will agree that a delay to the decision is the only reasonable way forward.
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A Chance for CEC to Rebuild Public Trust?

Email sent to councillors 21/5/2013

Dear Councillor

You may be aware that Wake up Macclesfield had complained to the Information Commissioner following Cheshire East’s refusal to release information relating to the proposed Macclesfield town centre redevelopment. The Information Commissioner has ruled that Cheshire East must disclose all the information requested or appeal within 35 days, which takes us to the 11th June.  We are concerned that the Planning Board meeting at which the decision on the development will be made could be scheduled for before that date. I am therefore writing to you to ask you to support prompt disclosure and so ensure that the material is in the public domain before that meeting.

Information requested includes the contract between the council and the developers Wilson Bowden plus details of the facts provided to Cabinet members on which they based their decision to go ahead. We also asked for details of any risk assessments undertaken in relation to the project.

The letter from the Commissioner states:

“The commissioner’s decision is that the council has wrongly applied the exception for the confidentiality of commercial information and that, whilst the exception for the course of justice is engaged in relation to some of the information, the public interest favours disclosing the information.

 The Commissioner requires the public authority to take the following steps to ensure compliance with the legislation:

 ·         Disclose the withheld information to the complainant.

 The public authority must take these steps within 35 calendar days of the date of this decision notice. Failure to comply may result in the Commissioner making written certification of this fact to the High Court pursuant to section 54 of the Act and may be dealt with as a contempt of court.”

 This decision is particularly significant in light of the secrecy and misleading information surrounding other recent planning issues within Cheshire East, inlcuding of course the Lyme Green situation.


In the notes accompanying the decision, the following points stand out:

 

  •  “…the Commissioner notes there are strong arguments in favour of disclosure, not least the scale of the project, the extent to which council and hence publicly owned land is being used, the number of residents affected and the significant local opposition to the scheme.  He also considers that, in the light of the Lyme Green report, the public interest in transparency, in facilitating scrutiny of the council’s decision-making, and providing reassurance the council has improved its governance arrangements are very strong….Other factors which contribute to the weighting in favour of disclosure include the shortfall in information available to local residents compared with the information available to the council as a decision making resource”

 

  • The Commissioner is satisfied that Cheshire East are unable to provide copies of a comprehensive risk assessment because no such document or documents exist. He ‘acknowledges the complainant’s incredulity that further information is not held’.

 

  • Very unusually, the Information Commissioner has requested the council release details of the legal advice they were given relating to the scheme.  Legal advice is typically subject to professional privilege, which means the adviser has the security of knowing their advice will not be disclosed to third parties and ensures there is no disruption to the course of justice.  We understand it is exceptional for the Commissioner to order disclosure of such advice. 

 

  •  The council had claimed that releasing details of the contract would harm its ability to negotiate commercial terms or progress this or other redevelopment schemes.  The Commissioner states that these arguments are ‘highly speculative’ and is ‘not convinced that these arguments are relevant’ neither is he satisfied that that the council ‘have explained how the effects would occur in this context’.  The council have not supplied any evidence that disclosure would harm either their own or Wilson Bowden’s interests and have not indicated they have consulted with Wilson Bowden regarding the possibility of disclosure as required in these situations.  The Commissioner has therefore discounted these arguments.

If CEC continues to deny sight of the information, the people of Macclesfield will continue to distrust assurances of openness and transparency and will inevitablybe suspicious that the council have something to hide. If the information is released but only after the decision date,CEC risk its electorate seeing their council as not only secretive but also cynical and manipulative.

Please do what you can to make sure the council does the right thing.

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What cost ‘vibrancy’?

Email sent to all councillors on 17th May 2013.

Dear Councillor

Wilson Bowden representatives are quoted in the press saying the proposed development would bring new vibrancy to Macclesfield.

They do not mention that it would destroy existing community activities that bring genuine vibrancy into the town.

Here are the local RSBP Wildlife Explorers (RSPB Juniors) in Heritage Walk, a green space that will under the proposed scheme be covered by Debenhams. If for any reason you can’t see the image, you can see it on Facebook here

 

Kew Botanic Gardens have chosen the Macclesfield group to take part in the ‘Grow Wild’ experiment for teams of youngsters throughout the country.

On May the 4th, the children embarked on a pilot wildflower project at Heritage Walk on Churchill Way, creating a haven for bees and other wildlife in the middle of Macclesfield.

If the Silk Street plans go ahead, not only the newly planted wild flowers but also 100+ mature trees would disappear forever.

Cheshire East Council staff and local volunteers, including many children, have worked hard on this and other community projects to create a sustainable environment in Macclesfield.

Will future generations thank us if we bury it in concrete?

And how does a retail monolith meet the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework for development to be environmentally sustainable?

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Hurdsfield candidates speak out

Here’s what the candidates say.

Stephen Broadhead, Liberal Democrats:  Against the development.  Pledges to help protect independent stores.

Steve Carter, Labour: Against the development: “Retail has changed so much in the past twenty years as more people buy online…Macclesfield is a great small business environment and this should be preserved. Let’s keep Macclesfield’s old fashioned character. It is a unique selling point that many still want.

John Knight, Green: Against the development: “We don’t need a clone town centre; we’ve got a real one…why should people come to Macclesfield for what they can get anywhere? We need an imaginative new approach to breathe new life into the town.”

David Lonsdale, UKIP: Against the development. “Macclesfield will be regenerated, not by big retailsers, but by independent shops providing an interesting shopping experience.”

Alistair Kennedy, Conservative: Not known – we haven’t seen any statements from him.

We’ll be asking all our currently elected councillors for their position.  Some have spoken out, more have stayed silent.  It’s time we knew where they stood. Watch this space.

 

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