Hundreds of millions to be spent on a new council office, transport interchange and a third shopping mall?
But who really benefits?
This week Rochdale Township planning committee will meet. It will pass a planning application for a new “Transport Interchange” for Rochdale Town Centre. Chances are it will go through without a hitch. The officers recommend it. Have some politicians been banking on this as an important part of a much dodgier project? Why spend £15 million to move a bus station a mere 15 metres over the road?
In these difficult economic times, is public money being abused for political purposes?
Will Rochdale suffer the financial consequences for decades to come?
RAW has some facts and questions for the record:
The regeneration of Rochdale town centre has been made party political. For the past few years official Rochdale Lib Dem regeneration policy seems to have been drafted by executive officers of Rochdale Council. In return, the councillors expect to bask in the glory of the billion pounds of development projects. Does this mean unelected officers decide Rochdale's future while our elected representatives obediently rubber stamp the plans?
But have the wheels fallen off many of these projects? Kingsway Business Park - the field of dreams that was built because the business model said jobs would come. But it remains a muddy field with a few tin sheds built. Are some rather questionable deals goings on now to get tenants on site?
Back to Rochdale Town Centre and the fragile, and grossly expensive, house of cards:
There is already a glut of available office space. Newgate House opposite the Town Hall is almost empty. With decentralisation of our diverse borough services and the easy connection of staff via the internet, why is there a scheme being steamrollered through to build a new central civic office?
Who is project managing? Impact Partnership- a procurement and facilitation private company that provides services for Rochdale Council? Who is Impact Partnership?
How does Impact Partnership charge for its services? How much does it charge for its services? Is it value for money?
Why do executive officers in Rochdale like huge planning projects?
Do they use these plans of “jam tomorrow” to justify their budget busting salaries?
Which vulnerable services suffer as a result of vain, hubristic projects that the public don't want and can't do anything about because they are decided years before the Planning Committee meets?
Take the “Transport Interchange”.
The Art Deco Electric House was demolished years ago.
How many other properties have been acquired and demolished in Rochdale Town Centre for a project that has had little public consultation, approval or scrutiny?
How much public money has Rochdale Council already used to guarantee this project?
What secret land deals have been done using public money?
What private businessmen have benefited from these land deals?
Have any of these businessmen donated cash to political parties? If so, How much? When?
How shaky is this “house of cards”?
The transport interchange is needed to free up the land of the current bus station.
If nearby council owned land is vacated then a large plot is created. The mother of all plots.
It requires the demolition of the Municipal Offices (Black Box) and Telegraph House. Perfectly serviceable offices that are owned outright by Rochdale Council that will be demolished for the planned move to a new municipal service centre “Yelloway House”. How much will this cost? £50 million, £65 million? Is this a Public Finance Initiative (PFI) deal? What additional costs have not been disclosed? For how many decades will Rochdalians be paying for this grossly expensive new office block? Who will actually own it?
So if the transport interchange goes ahead and the new council offices go ahead what happens to the empty land of our existing and perfectly serviceable bus station and council offices?
In a town with the third highest rate of empty shops, the geniuses planning our town centre “renaissance” are planning even more retail space. A kilometre from the inside market, hundreds of metres from the Exchange Centre (with about 25% retail voids), away from a blighted Yorkshire Street, and beside the Wheatsheaf shopping Centre that also has many retail voids in it.
When the Wheatsheaf centre was built, wasn't there a “planning gain” of the top floor housing our central library? Why then are library services due to be moved to the new £65,000,000 Yelloway House?
Who is playing a multi-million pound musical chairs with our council services and buildings?
Where is the competition? How can there be proper competitive process if there is only one bidder for the town centre regeneration process? How much has been wasted on enticing other developers? Who pays?
Which council offices and assets throughout the borough are to be sold off?
Who will benefit from this sell off of our civic silver? Have property speculators already benefited?
Could they profit from future council asset sales or compulsory purchases? Have these businessmen donated cash as political party donations? Has this cash been declared?
Have any Rochdale Councillors been involved in business relationships regarding property in Rochdale that hasn't been declared?
Why was there such frantic lobbying to ensure “Big Bang” Metrolink made it to Rochdale Town Centre?
Rochdalians are very luke warm about trams to the centre of Rochdale. The promised shuttle buses haven't happen yet. Is demand expected to be poor?
So why use tens of millions of public money to run a tram from the train station down Drake Street?
Is that why the “transport interchange” had to move 15 metre across the river (because the trams were too heavy for the old covered bridge)?
Who benefits from land deals done in this part of town?
Could Rochdale have an alternative?
Could Rochdale save itself well over a hundred million pounds?
Refurbish the existing bus station. With the money saved, make the existing car parking free? Use free shuttle buses to the train station?
Refurbish the exiting council offices. Obtain extra space from existing offices that are available at very favourable terms. Safeguard council services and jobs with the savings.
Concentrate on existing town retail businesses. Refurbish the “Georgian Quarter” of Yorkshire Street. Fill the hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail space. Concentrate on simple things like a good food and fish market.
Have a thorough audit of senior, executive Rochdale Council officers, the Rochdale Development Agency and Impact Partnership on project delivery and value for money. Also audit the millions spent each year in civic communication. How much of our money has been wasted on spin, propaganda and misinformation?
Have a thorough investigation of how party political funding operates in Rochdale. Who has received cash? Who has not declared business and property transactions? Who has benefited from any of these deals? If there has been wrongdoing then make sure those accused are charged and given a fair trial and, if found guilty, are punished accordingly.
There are rumours and speculation about corruption in Rochdale. Be that moral, financial or civic- our town deserves better than this. Our civic administration must be open and accountable. There must be no room for backroom deals and any suggestion of money changing hands in ways that can been questioned.
Those providing services for Rochdale must be value for money. Is this happening now given that the projects that these executive officers, partners and agencies are involved with have promised to deliver glory for some local politicians?
For months, “ambitious” Councillor Greg Couzens has been openly criticising current leader of the council Alan Taylor about civic failures. Cllr Couzens hopes to deliver an exciting panacea of “exciting” Rochdale town centre regeneration.
Could hundreds of millions be wasted for the sake of political vanity?
Only time will tell.
It starts this week with a planning committee voting on a transport interchange that was decided years ago.