March plan to halt city council's HQ move to Hanley
CAMPAIGNERS are preparing to march across Stoke-on-Trent in protest at controversial plans to relocate council offices.
Thousands of people are opposing Stoke-on-Trent City Council's proposals to move its headquarters from Stoke to Hanley.
Action group March On Stoke is organising a demonstration which will see protesters walking from Hanley to the existing Civic Centre in Stoke.
Around 30 attended last night's third planning meeting for the march, which is set to take place on February 23.
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The new civic centre, which will cost taxpayers £40 million, will be the 'anchor tenant' in the proposed Central Business District in Hanley.
Around 1,300 council workers are expected to vacate their old headquarters in Stoke in 2015.
Opponents of the move have questioned the wisdom of spending so much money on new offices at a time of wide-ranging council cutbacks.
They also believe businesses in Stoke will suffer when the Civic Centre closes.
Meeting chairman Alan Barrett said: "Three years ago the plan was to build the central business district in Stoke. What's changed since then?
"Stoke has the A50, the A500 and the railway, it's got lots of empty land that needs developing. I've got nothing against having Hanley as our retail centre, but it shouldn't be developed to the detriment of the rest of the city."
Mr Barrett said he hoped for 1,000 to go on the march, which would be followed by a rally in Stoke.
He added: "We might just get 50 but the numbers aren't important. It's the message that's important."
Group member Bill Mack said: "It's simply not necessary at a time of austerity. I need a new car, but I can't afford it so I'm just making do. To not do that, and to actually borrow money, is just suicide."
Stoke Socialist Party has gathered nearly 3,000 signatures for a petition against the proposals. Party organiser Andy Bentley said he expected large numbers of protesters to turn up for the march.
The 59-year-old, from Hanley, said: "We've had a wide range of people coming to the meetings. Some have been owners of small businesses in Stoke, some have been unemployed, some have been old and some have been young. It's been a real cross-section of society.
"Nearly everyone is opposed to moving the council headquarters to Hanley, and you can probably count the people who are in favour of it on two hands. The council will have to pay back three to five times the cost of the move, and it will be council taxpayers who will have to pay."
Nearly 1,000 people have signed a another petition started by Martin Peet, who runs the Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe chain.
Residents wanting to sign Mr Peet's petition should visit epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/41825