Mike Wolfe: Fantastic visions obscure grim reality of city plans
In the artist's impression of how the proposed Business District in the city centre might look, Lowry-like matchstick people play happily around futuristic structures and, in the centre, is a youthful figure doing a handstand.
Well, if you think that is a bit fanciful, don't worry, the whole thing is a complete fantasy.
This is a fantasy from the stable which told you that if the ring road were lined with mature trees and banners representing now defunct pottery manufacturers it would bring visitors flocking to a city centre full of empty shops.
It is part of a view which will shortly deliver a new bus station in the belief that this will bring shoppers to the city centre, despite the fact that there will be fewer buses because they have cut the subsidies.
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This is part of the plan to kickstart the city centre by kicking Stoke Town and moving jobs out of there in the belief that this will persuade the private sector to create jobs. I can't help wondering why Stoke Town hasn't boomed when all those council jobs are already sited down there? The city centre drawings have been dusted down in support of a new bid to Government for a 'City Deal'.
Now a City Deal in this case is the opposite of its name. This is actually a plan to attract money to the whole of Staffordshire and not the city at all.
It comes to us from the Local Enterprise Partnership, those grassroots locals who persuaded Government to help Jaguar Land Rover to locate by Wolverhampton and delivered more training for Alstom in Stafford. The LEP is a county council-based organisation whose vision for Stoke-on-Trent is of a low-wage manufacturing quarter hidden away from their gentrified agricultural county.
The key to the new bid is that it would devolve power from the Government and hand city and county leaders unprecedented power over how national funding is spent. Regeneration bosses predict that the strategy will create 50,000 jobs in the next decade.
It is not surprising that they claim this, but sadly, they will probably have left with their golden handshakes and index-linked pensions long before we know that this latest fantasy has failed. (Sorry, I know their payouts are irrelevant, but I am trying hard not to mention the obscene third of a million pound payout to child care expert Sharon Menghini).
The LEP's plan to Government claims to be bringing £50m to the area. Most of this money is, of course, would come anyway. The widening of the M6, or HS2 are both good infrastructure projects that we need and will swallow the majority of any new money without giving any control to local regenerators. The other proposals, like more apprenticeships or an innovation centre are good basic things but won't do any more than maintain the current trajectory of decline.
The only distinctively Stokie part of the plan seems to be the wish to use mine workings to deliver heat from way under the city. That is to be welcomed too, but nobody is going to come and live here because the honeycomb of old pit shafts delivers green energy.
This bid is not, therefore a way of getting power from Government; it is a way of giving it to the county council. Actually, even if it were a way of getting a real deal for our city, I wouldn't support it because I think Government strategists are more likely to deliver jobs to Stoke-on-Trent than the locally elected politicians. This plan demonstrates local leaders have no new vision for the city and will not make a place that stands out. We need creative thinking rather than power grabbing.
The most worrying indication of the strategic deficit down at the Town Hall, are the words of the council leader about the new bid. He said last week: "If we are not successful we'll continue with our Mandate for Change." Are we really being told this new plan is intended to be a replacement for "Mandate for Change"?
I have always said the mandate was vacuous, but surely its author can't be ditching it so unceremoniously just to cosy up to a Tory Government and the county council? Is that really their vision for jobs and prosperity? No wonder they have happy workers doing handstands: it isn't real.