In our exclusive exchange of views between our own Secret Agent and Cllr John Izett, deputy leader of Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council (B&DBC), a contribution came in from Cllr Dr Paul Harvey in which he said the council was ‘flailing around without a sense of really understanding Basingstoke’.
Since then a story about the termination of a development agreement between the council and Muse Developments popped up – and it rang bells with our Secret Agent.
Cllr Dr Paul Harvey’s comments that the council was ‘flailing around without a sense of really understanding Basingstoke’ appear to be confirmed by recent events.
That is the story that Basingstoke council and Muse have terminated their £500 million development agreement.
Reading between the lines, it appears that this was due in large part to the frustrations felt by Muse at the council’s glacial approach to the development proposals brought forward.
As Dr Harvey asks, could there be any clearer sign that the council ‘needs to be the brokers, enablers and harness the best the private sector has to offer in regenerating our stock of assets?’, suggesting that they have singularly failed to do this over many years, resulting in the dearth of quality office stock which is now possibly the most notable feature of Basingstoke.
Whilst almost all the other Thames Valley and South East towns, and certainly those most closely competing with Basingstoke, such as Woking and Guildford, have a ready supply of available quality space, Basingstoke is totally without any Grade A stock and, as a result, stands to lose the few major occupiers who remain in the town.
Only last week it was announced that Eli Lilly have commenced a search in Central London for a new 80,000 sq ft headquarters, suggesting that even though their occupation of Sienna House was a recent move, it may prove to be only a stop -gap until it can identify a long-term home for its business, apparently miles away from Hampshire.
Similarly, the AA, one of Basingstoke’s most familiar and long-term occupiers are also on the hunt for a new home. Although Mountbatten House, when finally refurbished, may offer them a solution, one has to ask whether the AA can wait that long and there must remain concern that there is an element of risk in committing to a building designed in the 60s and built in the 70s.
If the AA do leave Basingstoke, they will follow in the footsteps of Cllr Izett’s other claim of ‘success’, John Lewis who have clearly drawn the conclusion that Basingstoke is not really a ‘John Lewis town’.
It only remains to be seen how long they continue to operate their Waitrose store in the town. Cllr Dr Harvey believes that B&DBC ‘have consistently failed on major projects’ and opines that ‘it’s about vision, it’s about a willingness to work in joint ventures that are well thought out and it is, above all, about competence’.
It seems that the council share many of the characteristics of the Westminster governing party who have demonstrated over the past three years that they had the wrong plan, at the wrong time, introduced in the wrong way. Long after it became clear that their ill-conceived ideas were poison, they were defending them with the arrogant condescension that has become their trademark.
Bankers bonuses, a cut in higher rate taxpayers’ income tax bands and no windfall tax to help pay for the ill-thought out measures announced by Kwasi Kwarteng before his historically swift demise, all point to the fact that the Conservatives have just ‘lost it’ and would benefit from a decade in opposition to collect themselves, nurture what talent they have in their ranks and have another crack at it when they have properly developed the ideas and strategies required.
Perhaps Cllr Harvey has the vision that is required. As he states, he can ‘see the need for a wholly new approach to Basing View that links and complements a grand vision for the town’.
He dismisses the current council policy to ‘dump over 300 flats on Basing View, cramming over 2,000 more new flats into the wider town centre’ and believes they are ‘misguided in their approach to planning and will continue to do damage’.
A good reason to ensure a different path is chosen by the local electorate in future, methinks.
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