Scrutiny Committees are not much use. The safeguards demanded by the Scrutiny Committe on the toxic waste dump school were all ignored by the LibDem Executive councillors.

Adults and Communities Meeting 13/3/13 – Scrutiny Committee

All about Stockport Market Place – Strategic Property Acquisition.

Purpose of report – outline strategy for development of mainly specialist retail business. This sets out the hoped-for results of the plan and stress the need to acquire and fit out property, explain the sources of capital necessary to acquire and fit out the property – corporate resources, adult social care capital resources, reallocate some PIF to fund work at the Market Place. It should mention in the headline the ultimate source i.e. the already stretched council taxpayers. They are being asked to take the risk of failure of a project whose outcome in these hard times is far from likely to be positive.

Background – Town Centre Development Prospectus (2011) – “Improve Stockport’s Market offer and promote greater use of the market place……utilising vacant and under utilised buildings.” But, Lo and Behold, an opportunity arose to acquire another property. Surely this wasn’t the real aim all the time! What of the vacant premises? Meanwhile, the national economy had, in effect, suffered a triple dip recession and the decline shows no sign of ending. Where are these market shoppers to come from? At this point, Portas’ influence is mentioned – specialist shops are focussed. Portas Pilots have been reviewed recently countrywide and have been given a universal thumbs down. Frivolous, mini-schemes, days out and other pipe dream ventures. Exception – Stockport! Does SMBC’s record in capital project management really warrant this recognition?

Negotiations in many cases have been long-winded, costly and unsuccessful – often caused by inexperience of the real world on SMBC’s part and their poor choice of developers, consultants and other agents.

A section now on Vision – a slick word but it belongs in novels, holy books and in the mushroom fields of Somerset and not in the reports of local governments The Market Place will have a lively atmosphere and animated street scene; a market improvement consultant has started work on a plan of practical measures ……the Portas connection again? The use of existing council owned buildings still gets a mention. The Market Place is to be a “fledgling creative hub” – this phrase and constant reference to “creative industries and specialist retail” has to be further evidence of the Portas connection. Other privately owned, vacant premises are to be approached. Growth intended in this hub generally and from already established private businesses.

Property – The council owns various properties in the area and is also in negotiation with Manchester Metropolitan University (Graduate Produce Hall). However, the common thread running through all of these proposals is the need for refurbishment outside and in. The cost to be borne by…… you guessed it! At this point it comes as no surprise that “an opportunity” has arisen to purchase another property in the market – to support the Vision.

MMU will invest in the interior hall’s requirements but (wait for it) only after SMBC has secured the exterior enabling MMU to take on a full repairing lease – apparently this would lead to an increase in SMBC’s asset. But to what end? It is surely not going to be sold in the near future. The “key priority theme” is “supporting local businesses during challenging economic times.” Absurd – this support would be needed for decades and would need continuing underwriting by SMBC.

Funding – Much reshuffling of previously earmarked funding (2011) – including PIF and “Stockport Business Challenge Fund”. Who would use the market place property? There have been approaches by numerous creative enterprises – with no backing – but enthusiastic. The stated aim is attraction of more customers. But again, have we discounted the almost certainly continuing decline in the national economy? However, there are two front runners 1) ARC -Arts for Recovery in the Community – Gallery, design service, commercial/social enterprise and 2) Pure Radio. These are both charities and neither could pay “market” rent out. But, given that, would hopefully succeed mainly by establishing a learning/employment centre and raised profile. Again, more than a hint of Portas. Also, SMBC as underwriters is a constant.

Property acquisition – (seems to have taken over the headlines from use of vacant council property). Funds would be sought from SMBC (Adult Social Care) and grants. After refurbishment and fit-out, the property would be leased at below market rent. The funding would be complex and from numerous sources. It is difficult to see a deal without SMBC permanently underwriting this. If this scheme should fail, SMBC would accommodate the No Risk Users in the market place.

The whole strategy appears to have little chance of success and should be avoided – write off cost thus far. The winners will otherwise be consultants, advisers, selling/buying property agents and the losers will always be Stockport council taxpayers.