Wednesday, 1 December 2010
Tonight saw what might break the deal between our Council and developers Orion and stop the redevelopment of the Market in its tracks. Taking place in the newly refurbished home of the Bush Theatre in the old library building it also saw a performance from Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh that confounded many expectations in the hundred or so audience. He may have avoided a couple of questions (what politician doesn’t) but he was forthright, quite emotive and clearly angry at some of what he’d heard.
Anger and emotion is fine, but if it isn’t backed up with actions it doesn’t mean much. But he also had a couple of announcements up his sleeve. The historic Goldhawk shops are saved. There will be no third entrance that requires their removal. And yes, in response to the inevitable response from the shop owners, they could have that in writing.
By contrast, Orion the developers were embarrassing. Richard Olsen, the Chairman, started off by apologising for his croaky voice but it was the content of what he was saying that was the problem. Kicking off with a word document projected on to a screen he went through what looked like a hastily assembled list of traders’ concerns they’d come across. There would be no closure of the Market he said. There would be an investment of around £2 million in the Market he announced. Rents would be fixed for the first 2-3 years and then rise in line with inflation. He even pulled off a party trick by referring to some traders and residents by name in the audience as he highlighted how they’d put forward some helpful ideas. But then it started to go wrong for the Chairman.
Cllr Greenhalgh’s interjection about there being no third entrance and therefore no demolition of the historic row of shops came at the end of this tour de force of developer-heaven and it was met by stony faces among the three Orion bods. Asked to respond to this by chair of the evening James Horada, himself chair of the Shepherd’s Bush Traders, Mr Olsen replied it was “difficult to see” how that could work.
But things then went from bad to worse for Mr Olsen as he couldn’t help himself from mocking and barracking some of the other speakers.
Aniza Meghani, speaking on behalf of the Goldhawk Road shop owners and adorned with a bib urging H&F not to "stitch up local traders", did not represent them, Mr Olsen alleged. To support this point he claimed with a Alain B'stard style smile that two of them had personally approached him to buy them out. When she asked who, he refused to answer. I’ve no doubt this is true, but there was no need to start having a go at people like that and he received the only boos of the evening for having done so.
The most powerful speaker of the evening was a Lime Grove resident called Casper. He stood up and spoke eloquently about the impact not often referred to by proponents and opponents alike, and that is the likely relocation of a homeless and drug user service, back to within that residential area, from where it was removed only 5 or so years ago. Recalling taking his children to their first day at school he reminisced about their having seen vomiting, urinating and other behaviour from the addicts and homeless people being served on their road. All of this is set to return under the current plans because their new hostel occupies land that Orion wish to build flats on.
But his real ire was aimed at the Council, who he alleged had effectively gerrymandered the consultation process so that the residents’ submission and 200 name petition opposing the plans was not even considered by councillors. Amid lots of detail about deadlines and extended deadlines his basic point was that the Council had never had any intention of meaningfully consulting or listening, it had all been a farce.
It was at this point that Cllr Greenhalgh, having been variously referred to as a charlatan, fraudster and all round bad guy, responded to his critics. Referring to each allegation in turn he rejected them and said he’d heard what people had said loud and clear. He also had his own children, he said – and understood what Caspar had said – he would listen and act, although he was vague about what that would mean in his case. But for the Goldhawk shops he repeated their salvation from the demolisher’s ball and referred to his own grandfather as having been the owner of a fish & chip shop – he understood small businesses and had no agenda to harm them, he said. You did get the impression he was being serious and sincere, and he was applauded as a result.
Enter stage left Andy Slaughter MP. There was a “lack of honesty” and clarity from the Council he said. All local people like him were asking was to be listened to and respected, and for their views to be acted on. It wasn’t much to ask he said and his speech was punctuated by clapping. He even claimed that there was a secret backroom deal between the Council and Orion which he’d apparently rumbled a few years ago – they’d been having secret meetings to which he’d once gone only to be removed by the Police! It was all a bit bizarre, and worrying if true, but frankly Cllr Greenhalghs’ pledges to protect shop fronts and others had taken some of the wind out of Mr Slaughter’s sails.
I said at the beginning that I thought what we’d witnessed was a deal breaker. And that’s because in the questions from the floor that followed, after some spectacularly bad chairing from Mr Horada in which he sought to add his own lengthy thoughts to every question from the floor, one quiet woman – a resident of Lime Grove – asked Mr Olsen directly whether or not Orion could proceed with the scheme without the third entrance that would necessitate the demolishing of the historic row of shops. He repeated that it was “difficult to imagine” and then waffled about looking at options. But essentially what he clearly seemed to be saying was that without that extra land – and the boutiques, cafes and bars they would wish to build on it – it was a bit of a non-starter. And non-start, therefore, it might.
And even Cllr Greenhalgh conceded in another question that “the status quo may overcome”. Which translates to you and me as “we might just leave it then”, if the objections persist.
It was, for me, left to one very incisive contribution from another trader to sum up the mess that this proposed development now seems to be in, when he wondered aloud whether the meaning of the word “consultation” may in future acquire a different meaning in the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. He was “utterly confused” he said. And he wasn’t the only one.
Posted by Chris Underwood at 21:38