When Bourne Town Hall was built in the early 19th century it was mostly paid for by public subscription, not from council funds.
Back in October last year I explained that meant there was a trust, whether express or implied, for the benefit of the people of Bourne.
I also said that when I made this point to Lincolnshire County Council they did indeed come up with a written trust deed made in 1821, which restricts the use of the building to its intended purpose as a town hall, courthouse, and ancillary market stalls.
I repeat all this because in last week’s Local Sue Woolley, Bourne Abbey county councillor, wrote about the public consultation on the future of the town hall that is currently up and running and goes on until November 26. In her article, Councillor Woolley repeats what we had already been told in the 2nd October issue, namely that charity lawyers have been consulted and have set out six options for the town hall’s future. One of these is simply stated as ‘sell the building’. But this is misleading, implying that the council can just sell, as it had originally wanted to do, without anyone having to comply with the requirements of the trust. If the requirements of the trust deed are binding, as they surely are, the town hall cannot just be sold off without any buyer being bound by them, so any buyer must also use the building for public purposes. This needs to be made clear. If charity lawyers have advised otherwise, we must know what they have said. I personally have asked several times if I can see their advice, so far to no avail. As tax payers we are all entitled to fully understand what advice has been given. We must be absolutely clear about this for any consultation to be meaningful.
By the way, in an article back in August Sue Woolley praised many of the commercial sponsors of ‘Bourne in Bloom’ without mentioning Bourne Preservation Society’s contribution for many years, so I do hope she is not one of those, like some at Bourne Town Council, who regard volunteers who work hard to protect our heritage as an inconvenient nuisance.
Another new supermarket will apparently soon be coming to this once proud town, adding to the spread of concrete, steel and glass which our councillors apparently find so aesthetically attractive.
The mayor of Bourne is reported to have said that he could see no good reason why the Lidl proposal should not be approved. Really? Is planning law not good reason? Has he considered the little matter that any such development goes against all established planning guidance? It has long been recognised that edge-of-town supermarkets adversely affect market town communities, residential and business alike, draining life from town centres. It’s been happening for years – has no councillor in Bourne noticed? Quite apart from the fact that green fields should never be used where brownfield land is available, as can be found in Bourne, any new supermarket should be sited centrally, to encourage footfall and help increasingly endangered small businesses. It is hardly rocket science. Bourne needs to plan for the long term, and get business back into the town centre, if it is to be a pleasant and attractive place with any future.
It has likewise long been understood that new supermarkets, particularly far out of the town centre, encourage ever more car use. Presumably even councillors now understand that cars are environmentally unfriendly? As if that were not enough, supermarkets contribute to, and encourage, ‘urban sprawl’ at the edge of town, creating a permanently unsightly approach for residents and visitors alike.
All those outcomes are acknowledged as undesirable both in national planning policy and in the South Kesteven Local Plan and Core Strategy. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), controversial in some ways, is clear on these points. In ‘Ensuring the vitality of town centres’ it says: ‘local planning authorities should recognise town centres as the heart of their communities’. In paragraph 24, main town centre sites are clearly prioritised over edge-of-centre sites. Paragraph 26 requires the impact on town centre vitality and viability to be assessed. Car use is clearly discouraged. Paragraph 35 requires priority for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.
The SKDC Core Strategy is consistent with the NPPF. In paragraph 6.2, Policy E2 prioritises town centre development over edge-of-town ‘in order to promote the vitality of town centres’. In paragraph 2.2, the objective is to ‘reduce traffic growth’. In short, supermarket proposals of this kind are squarely in breach of planning policy. Why spend all that time and money at public expense drawing up national and local plans if their principles, requirements and guidance are going to be trampled on with such contempt?
Talking of the need for long term thinking brings me on to the apparently wonderful idea of a ring road. A Conservative councillor is reported to have said the Lidl development will help bring this about. Everyone automatically and unquestioningly assumes that it must be a good thing to carve a ring road round Bourne. It is taken for granted, as if at a stroke it will solve all congestion. This is again short sighted and betrays little understanding of the real problem. While it may help ease town centre traffic in the short term, traffic always grows to fill all available road space, a well-known phenomenon that has been recognised for many years. And has anyone noticed that more and more roads extending the human concrete footprint over the countryside might just be very damaging to the environment? We know they are a big contributor to the huge decline of wildlife. A ring road can only address the symptoms of congestion, not the cause. The cause of congestion is the overpopulation we suffer from in this country and the concomitant excessive amount of traffic.
The challenge is to get car use down, not be enslaved by it. Car use is going down in London and other big cities, despite gross overpopulation, because of the encouragement being given to cycling and public transport, and even, yes, people actually walking occasionally.
Developers love ring roads. They know urban sprawl will be allowed to follow. That lovely new road means more urbanisation. A town becomes an anonymous spread of development, its character lost. If you want to drain the town centre of business and community, and have sprawling suburbs instead, go for a ring road.