Keith Barwell’s recent challenge to Northampton Borough Council to allow him to use retail development to fund ground improvements at Franklins Gardens is understandably reminiscent of the Cobblers similar shelved plans of the past. As a director of the Cobblers I can empathise wholeheartedly with him and with what he is trying to do, as do the whole board at NTFC. But with my Borough Council Hat on, can I view the problem from the other side of the fence?
To a degree yes. No one wants success for our professional sports clubs to be at the expense of harming the future of the Town Centre, but many in our town, like me will be asking just where is the balance? Where is the good Counsel? What are our Leading Councillors doing to find a resolution to these dilemmas?
My directorship of NTFC prevents me from speaking up about Sixfields in the Council chamber as over pompous officialdom makes it more and more difficult for local Councillors to do their jobs without fear of being reported to the Standards Board for not declaring this interest or that. But why shouldn’t I and other Councillors like the new Leader Brian Hoare (a shareholder at the Saints) have an interest? Surely it makes us better placed to understand the problems that both clubs face and for us to use that knowledge to inform and guide our colleagues on the Authority?
Local Government has over a period of years become far too sterile, far too safe, Northampton Borough Council has excelled itself in becoming the leading Council in the UK for not taking decisions. Instead it hides behind its planners, government policies and national developers in forever giving us reasons why nothing is ever “that simple” Well I don’t believe any of it. Did Milton Keynes Council falter in their decision making when using the cash from IKEA and Asda to build Stadium MK for the towns sports fans putting them firmly on the sporting map? Were Swansea, Doncaster, Hull, or Coventry Councils negligent or reckless with the future of their City Centre when planning and building similar Stadia?
Our town, and our Council needs a "Can Do " attitude, whereby we lead by our action and make national policy work in the towns favour not against its combined interests.
I was on Northampton Borough Council when Sixfields was originally built in 1994 and I can say hand on heart that it would never of happened without Councillors being prepared to stand up to those who told us it couldn’t never be done, or because it was against this or that policy or local government rule. John Dickie’s as Council Leader at the time would answer any doubt by firmly, and at times robustly reminding officers that the role of Councillors was to make decisions and the role of officers was to find ways of implementing them. It seems times have changed? Successive administrations since, of all political hues have found solace in excuses and in indecision. And by making no positive decisions they escape the blame for any responsibility, but they were all elected to serve our town and make decisions based on finding common sense solutions to the competing demands of different sections of the community.
Compromise is there to be found if the politicians are willing to court it. For instance is ALL out of town retail bad for the future of the Town Centre? If the Council or for that matter even the Saints or the Cobblers take up no compromise positions then the town itself will be the loser in one way or another. Surely is is now the time for common sense solutions, and round the table talks with all involved to be held. These talks, followed up by firm direct actions are a must if we are to move the projects forward in the best interests of the whole town.
My direct interest bars my involvement on Council in any such talks, but the continued inaction by my fellow councillors to date on all these issues leaves me currently embarrassed to be amongst their number.
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