Once again the divisions within Prudhoe about the proposed new town centre are writ large in last Friday's Hexham Courant. It is front page news and there is an editorial which I would sign up to totally. The development is that the Mayor of Prudhoe has found a mechanism whereby a public meeting can be called at which the County Planning Committe will have to listen to further comments. Trying to be a spectator rather than a partizan is a bit challenging but here goes with some thoughts.
Clearly the Planning Committee do not welcome this development. That is unfortunate. One would think they would welcome every opportunity to re-assure those concerned. It would be unfortunate as well if the meeting takes place "next month" which is August when many people will be on holiday. To be fair to everyone the meeting should take place as soon as possible once the schools return. For it to appear rushed through when many people are away would again suggest this is not genuine consultation. The comments made about the Police also appear unfortunate. To so directly anticipate trouble is not to encourage law abiding citizens like myself to wish to attend.
It will be obvious for those most disadvantaged directly by the new scheme to make comment. I feel for anyone in Cranleigh Gardens, Neale Street and the other areas where this development will "look down" on their properties. They have real objections. Even so I think the best way to make inroads on the Planning Committee members will be to show how within its own terms the application is unsatisfactory. I have heard of numerous detailed aspects of this and no doubt these will come out.
However I would advocate keep it simple and direct. The multi storey car park, the new road onto Station Bank, the restrictive covenants on the new shops, these to my mind are all strong cards about why the present proposal does not lead to a good outcome.
There is also a message to those who may support the scheme. There are probably four people who really can influence the outcome of all this. The Duke himself. The Chairman of the Prudhoe Community Partnership who also happens to be the vicar. There are two members of Northumberland County Council from Prudhoe. Coun. Bill Garrett is a member of the planning committee and may not express a view before the determination. Coun. Neil Bradbury may, and he has expressed a view. He is broadly in favour of a regeneration project.
What is my message to them? At a personal level I do believe in a town centre development, this blog has outlined ways in which it could be done before. The Hanging Gardens of Prudhoe strapline. Yet where have we got today? The Town Council voted 4/3 against. The Mayor clearly feels that she will risk her reputation by insisting on another public meeting which unless it powerfully demonstrates the opposition that there really is will backfire. In other words and as the Courant has shown for weeks, the town is completely divided. Probably somewhere in the 60/40 area either way. If this last sentence is correct a fascinating question then becomes, how do the two County Councillors represent this?
If I was any of these four people - and certainly if I was the vicar - I could not vote for anything which had become so divisive. Personally I hope that this now anticipated meeting never takes place and that Prudhoe ceases washing its dirty linen in the Courant. I hope that the principals who really can make a difference would work together. The probable outcome to keep the peace in this town would be to recognise that the application as it is should not go forward. It should be back to the drawing board with a determination to produce a proposal really born from within the community and partnered by the skills shown at Alnwick Garden to produce a development that truly excited those who live on our wonderful and beautiful hillside. Outlines of the project are here.