"If you want an example of how not to regenerate a town, Bridlington in a prime example". I wrote those words in September 2010, and yesterday it was revealed in the Yorkshire Post that the regeneration plan in the seaside town was on the brink of collapse.
The £200 million scheme to rejuvenate Bridlington has been unpopular with local people from the start. It involves buying up and demolishing existing properties to make way for Burlington Parade: a retail, small business and residential development. The reason why it was and is unpopular is because this new development is essentially an out of town shopping centre. Many properties already bought are vacant and boarded up. This grandiose plan will suck-out trade from existing shops, and attempt to redirect it to the new retail area, and in the process, keep more trade in the town and attract new visitors.
The whole scheme hinges on Tesco relocating from their existing site to a coach park next door. The supermarket has confirmed it no longer plans to move due to an unexpected reduction in profits. For those who think there must be a Plan B, you are going to be disappointed. A source tells me that around £25 million of taxpayers' money has been spent on this proposed development. This figure includes consultancy costs, staffing costs, exhibition costs, and land acquisition and demolition costs. Despite all the money spent, those in charge at East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) did not get Tesco to sign on the dotted line.
Former ERYC councillor, Geoff Pickering commented:
I think they need to explain why they have gone for a plan that is so prescriptive rather than normal planning documents that are flexible and robust enough to take this. Why didn't they take notice of stakeholders when they sat at the opposite side of the table to them in the inquiry? They decided to ignore them and all the checks and balances that would normally be put into this kind of project are not in place because they disregarded other opinions
Mr Pickering is correct. To spend millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on something so inflexible is madness. Despite being told this on many occasions, the council's response was to collectively put their fingers in their ears, and dismiss those appealing for them to see sense.
The council though was trying to put on a brave face as officers scurried around in a desperate attempt to salvage the scheme. Initially they refused to talk to the media, and put out a statement regretting Tesco's decision. The council said it needed more time before it could make a full statement. It was then thought Alan Menzies, ERYC's Corporate Director of Planning and Economic Regeneration, was going to talk to BBC Look North. This didn't happen, and instead the council issued another holding statement. Here's part of it:
However, the Council respect the current decision, and will continue to progress the developments that Bridlington Area Action Plan provides for, initially, with the consultation on the design guidance, the Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) which will run from 22nd April to 2nd June so that the Council can listen to public opinion on quality of design, and develop deliverable plans for the town.
Whilst the Tesco proposal was one possible element of the development, it was not necessarily the first, and certainly not the only site within the Bridlington AAP area for development. Public opinion from the SPD consultation may help to shape the future approach.
If you go back far enough, the Tesco proposal was not necessarily the first option, but as there is no Plan B, it's clear all the council is doing is playing for time.
This whole mess needs to be fully investigated. Those responsible for it need to be held to account. If council officers were experts in property development, they wouldn't be working for the council, they would be in business themselves. Instead they have marched on into the abyss ignoring every sane voice that told them their plans were flawed. Heads should roll, but we know this is unlikely. The standard reward for failure seems to be either a move sideways or a large compensation package for leaving quietly.
More updates to follow when the council eventually decides on its full and frank response.