Fringe Box



Letter: I Felt for Cllr Rigg As I Watched the North Street Planning Decision

Published on: 16 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 16 Jan, 2023

From: Geoff Davis

former Conservative GBC lead councillor

See North Street Planning stories here

Like Cllr John Rigg [R4GV, Holy Trinity], I am a long time chartered surveyor, experienced in property and planning matters.

I know that Cllr Rigg worked long and hard with developers Berkeley and various stakeholders since taking over the matter, soon after his election.

We had made the engagement with Berkeley through M&G [North Street site owners], and it was good to have the unique Tony Pidgley [Berkeleys director] in the council offices, working up a scheme once the decision not to double the size of The Friary retail offering had been made.

Many did not realise that the scheme considered last week was considerably smaller than the allocation in the 2019 plan – the “bulk and scale” would have been much more.

I had known Tony Pidgley since he was 20, when he made his first million; his hands on likeable approach made Berkeley the huge success that it quickly became. What a loss when he passed..

I watched Cllr Rigg apply himself, apparently with the support of the coalition partners, with the scheme consistently applying himself to seeking resolution of the very long term conundrum which North Street was – the Local Plan inspector was scathing in his comments about that area.

I must have attended many hundreds of planning committees in my active 55 plus years as a professional, but I had never seen a marginal result like that on such an important issue for our town – something must be very wrong if such vital matters get decided in that way.

I watched in years gone by as various schemes on the site were blocked by the council at the time, often leading to the withdrawal of potential developers, leading to further long  periods of stagnation. I now wonder if the scheme will be built out in my lifetime.

Personally, I was in favour of the current scheme, a view not shared, apparently, by most of my Conservative colleagues. My support was borne out of frustration – although it was by no means perfect (especially, like St Mary’s Wharf (or Debehams), with insufficient affordable units) I felt it was actually capable of happening, putting much needed vitality back into the town centre.

The 13-storey building that was proposed at the northern end of the four-acre North Street Regeneration site.

I actually liked the tall tower on the Dominion House site, viewed down Woodbridge Road as a statement. I had been instrumental in creating Dominion House when acting all those years ago for BT – it was state of the art and a tall building in those times.

The big questions now, of course, are whether Berkeley will renegotiate and re-apply as a free go, appeal and claim costs, or throw in the towel. There is a risk of the latter, reading the latest report and accounts of Berkeley.

Of course, I do hope that Berkeley sit down again with the current decision makers in GBC, quite soon, to find a compromise solution – the answers are all available by watching the Planning Committee webcast.

This time, I urge all political parties to attend such meetings, rather than store up their concerns until the last minute – that is the proper way for our politicians to conduct themselves.

Various Dragon articles have mentioned the land deal between GBC and Berkeley, whereby GBC agreed to sell some 25 per cent of the site to the developers. We do not know the terms of that contract, but we should.

All current lead councillors were elected on the basis of openness and transparency, so we council tax payers are all perfectly entitled to see what has been agreed on our behalf with our money – we await that document on The Dragon NEWS please.

I had assumed that Cllr John and his colleagues had been bringing the Lib Dems along with them on this North Street challenge but, most oddly, it was anything but. That begs the question of what the so-called coalition is all about – maybe it’s time for that to fade away?

There’s a full council tonight – perhaps a good opportunity for the parties to “row their own boats”.

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