The West Midlands campaign launched this morning outside 'The Public' gallery in West Brom. As one of the most scandalous examples of profligate spending and poor planning in the region - if not the country - this £54million white elephant was the perfect backdrop for our new campaign.
Leafleting in West Brom town centre in the afternoon, we found no end of people who were sick to the back teeth with the whole Public fiasco - with some gladly volunteering to help tear the thing down before it even opens (two years late "sometime in summer 2008"). Even those who initially supported the concept, have fallen out of love with it as the costs have soared and still, the spending goes on.
People in West Bromwich wanted a swimming pool - they haven't had one in ten years - and yet their money was wasted on this. Angry stallholders and local pensioners blamed "w**kers" at the council for totally "stupid" policies which poured money into failing projects like the Public, at the same time as introducing new parking charges and doubling the business rates on local shops - killing off what is left of the vibrancy of West Brom town centre.
A grocer who ran a stall in the main parade for thirty years had his rates bill doubled by Sandwell Council last year and couldn't afford it. Just another business in the shadow of this huge and grotesque monolith that had to go bust so local politicians could "realise their vision".
West Brom town centre is being slowly strangled by high taxes and new parking charges on motorists. Visitor numbers are dwindling and more shops are closing and still, the one attraction that was meant to entice some people back (and overseas tourists as well), remains unopened. Even the builders we spoke to this morning who were busy working on the outside panelling of the main building, thought the whole thing was a complete waste of money (and happily took some WMTPA launch flyers).
It shouldn't be forgotten that when the project was originally announced, the proposal predicted up to a quarter of a million visitors to Sandwell as a result of The Public. This was hopelessly naive but the question now is surely: at this massively increased cost, how many visitors will eventually have to come to see The Public when it opens for it to be judged a success?
One of our first WMTPA campaign objectives will be to get Sandwell Council to publicly guarantee that no more money will be sunk into this black hole, and that if they can't finish it for the amount now agreed, then the plug should be pulled. No more excuses.
No private company could go on funnelling money into such a failing project, and local council taxpayers shouldn't be treated any differently from shareholders. Local pensioners and families should not be guaranteeing endless future costs just because "we've started now, and it would be such a shame not to see it finished."
Look out for more updates on The Public and our campaign in the local area soon.
You can download our petition:
Download THE PUBLIC Petition (PDF)
(Please print off as many copies as you like and get friends and family to sign and send the completed sheets to our West Midlands office).