Is Cheshire East misleading us? Open letter to Michael Jones

We’ve been digging into some of the statements made by Cheshire East in support of the Macclesfield redevelopment plans.  The results have been interesting.  Please see below for copy of open letter sent yesterday to council leader Councillor Michael Jones raising questions about three major discrepancies between the council’s claims and just one of the background research reports.

The letter

Dear Councillor Jones

Over the past six months, Cheshire East has made a number of high profile statements to support the case for the Silk Street development. Those statements have been backed by information presented as factual evidence.

A closer look reveals some serious discrepancies between the facts as presented to the public by CEC and those published in the Wilson Bowden/CACI Silk Street Development Study (September 2012), to which you recently referred us when we asked for further details.

We are concerned that this misinformation is likely to have reached those councillors who sit on the Strategic Planning Board and are responsible for making the decision on the planning application.

In addition to this, the statements made by CEC foster an atmosphere of negativity and fear within the town and perhaps more worryingly, further afield. Needlessly so.

It would be difficult to assess the economic damage these erroneous statements may have already caused and, if left unchecked, will continue to cause. The public record needs to be put straight before any further damage is done. We also ask that you send a copy of this letter to those who are undertaking the new retail impact assessment, to ensure they do not rely on incorrect information in their report.

This letter gives a summary of CEC’s arguments and explains why the Silk Street Development Study does not support key statements made by CEC. You will see that the discrepancies give rise to a number of serious questions. These questions have to be answered before any decision can be taken.

Summary of the CEC argument

 Macclesfield is in decline. It is underachieving. People are not spending as much money here as they should.

Why?

Because it does not have enough shops. People are forced to go elsewhere. If we ‘do nothing’, Macclesfield will increasingly lose out to other shopping centres. Further decline will be the inevitable result. Doing nothing would be economic suicide.

The Silk Street proposal will not only halt the decline, it will bring much needed trade to the town and generate new jobs. It will turn Macclesfield into a destination town.

If Macclesfield does not go ahead with the WB scheme the best we can hope for is managed decline. Losses in retail sales alone will be substantial – an estimated £40 million by 2016.

  The ‘Facts’

Point One

CEC Statement:

 ‘Only 6% of Macclesfield people’s comparison goods spend is spent in Macclesfield.’ 

 Sources: Cheshire East online press release, 26th November 2012, Make it Macclesfield Business Breakfast presentation 23rd November 2012.

Facts behind the statement:

The Silk Street Development Study tells us that the 6% figure relates to Macclesfield’s ‘total catchment’.  Rather than relating specifically to ‘Macclesfield people’, this figure includes 1,056,929 people living across the region and as far north as Stockport.

Many of these people live closer to Manchester, the Trafford Center, and Stockport than to Macclesfield. It is hardly surprising therefore that they do not spend much money in Macclesfield.

The report goes on to state that among Macclesfield’s primary catchment area of 56,502 people, 56.4% of comparison goods spending is in fact spent in the town.

Adding in the secondary catchment area (Poynton, Congleton, Buxton) gives a total of 155,937 people and still a respectable figure of 30.7% spent in the town.

In the report’s own words:

“Macclesfield captures a significant proportion of its core catchment (spend) at 30.7%, illustrating the dominance of the center in its local catchment”.

 Conclusion: Contrary to CEC’s claims, Macclesfield is not suffering from a worryingly low level of local spending.

Point Two

 CEC Statement:

“One way leads to managed decline, shop closures and the centre becoming a retail and community wasteland ..the other is an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Source: Letter from Councillor Michael Jones to the Macclesfield Express, published December 12th 2102. Multiple other references to the town being in decline.

Facts behind the statement: CACI 2012 retail footprint rankings quoted in the report place Macclesfield 20th out of 337 centres in the North West. Nationally, CACI rank Macclesfield 141st out of 4,300 UK towns. This puts the town above Southport, Durham, Bracknell and many other significant town centres.

Conclusion: Contrary to the picture of decline and march toward inevitable doom painted by CEC, Macclesfield is still a relatively successful town centre.

Point Three

CEC Statement:

 “The scheme will prevent an estimated £40 million loss in retail sales in Macclesfield”

 Source: Cheshire East press release 26th November 2012, Macclesfield Express, 2nd January 2013. Multiple other sources.

Facts behind the statement: The Wilson Bowden/CACI Silk Street Development Study (September 2012) outlines a do-nothing scenario in which Macclesfield would lose £13.9 million, not the £40 million claimed by CEC.  Furthermore, the £13.9 million figure is based on an assumption which can be questioned on several counts.

The assumption is that Macclesfield would lose out by this amount because people who currently shop here will be drawn to centres where new retail developments are planned.

In the words of the report, “Due to developments in competing centres, the total catchment market potential would drop to £109.8 million. A decrease of 11.2% from the 2012 market potential of £123.7 million.”

The report lists the following centres as future threats to Macclesfield:

Rochdale

Ashton under Lyne

Urmston

Wythenshawe

Liverpool – Edge Lane Retail Park

Kirkby

Warrington

Cheshire Oaks

Penrith

Blackpool

Lancaster

Skelmersdale

Bamber Bridge – South Preston Retail Park

Birkenhead (Wirral Waters)

Liverpool – Great Homer Street

Liverpool – Liverpool Waters

This assumption must be questioned in the light of two key points:

1.      Only four of these developments were under construction at the time the report was published. In the current climate, how many of the others are likely to go ahead?

2.      People in the Macclesfield area already currently shop at a wide range of other competing centres. The report lists these existing retail destinations as:

Manchester

Stockport

Trafford Centre

Stoke on Trent

Wilmslow

Crewe

Buxton

Northwich

Cheadle Royal

Congleton

Freeport Talke

This is significant because:

·         All the ‘existing’ competing centres are closer to Macclesfield and to a large proportion of its catchment population than those included in the report’s list of ‘future’ threats.

·         Manchester has recently been voted by the Daily Telegraph as one of the six best places to shop in the UK.*

·         The Trafford Centre is the second largest shopping mall in the UK with 185,800m sq of retail shopping space.

Are people likely to travel further afield to destinations which offer less choice and fewer big brands than those they are already visiting?

If the proposed Silk Street development does go ahead, the report forecasts an increase of £25.3 million in spending.

Is CEC’s estimate of a do-nothing scenario £40 million loss derived from adding the £25.3 million hypothetical gain to the £13.9 million projected loss?

Whatever the reliability of the estimates, we are sure it is not necessary to point out that not getting a hypothetical gain is in no way the same as suffering a loss.

Conclusion: CEC’s estimated loss of £40 million does not add up.

 Questions

 Given these discrepancies, Wake up Macclesfield have a number of key questions:

Have CEC been misled and not given access to the proper facts themselves?

Have CEC been misunderstood and misquoted? Not on one occasion or two or even three but repeatedly and systematically. In the press, on the radio, and by their own spokespeople?

Have CEC planning officers, despite repeated statements to the contrary, adopted unwittingly or otherwise a stance that makes it difficult for them to deliver the facts in a way that is impartial and balanced?

How many of the other statements/claims CEC are using to support and justify the WB Silk Street development may also based on inaccurate or questionable evidence?

Given CEC’s partnership arrangement with developers Wilson Bowden, are CEC best placed to deliver the facts in a way that is impartial, clear and balanced?

What guarantees can CEC give to ensure they provide Macclesfield’s residents with an accurate picture of where the town is, what its residents want and what its residents need rather than providing statements and spurious facts designed to support CEC’s own agenda?

We are not complacent about the state of Macclesfield and are not suggesting there does not need to be any investment in its future development. However, we are sure you will agree that it would be not only foolish but also a dereliction of duty for CEC not to take a closer look at the facts as they have been presented. It is clearly vital that any evidence relied on in decision making is robust and that the people of Macclesfield and the councillors who represent them are fully and clearly informed of the facts as they stand.

We look forward to your comments.

Yours sincerely

Beverley Moore

on behalf of Wake up Macclesfield

 

This entry was posted in Latest News. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • RSS
  • Facebook
  • Twitter