Friday, 2 July 2010


I recently attended a planning event for Cllrs on the Borough Council to discuss the "THE CITY MEADOWS WORKSHOP" which asked members their views on the future of the river valley through Midsummer and Cow Meadows within the town centre.

The workshop itself had already taken place in October where council officers and outside consultants had already been busy engaging with each other and drawing up plans which they could put to the council. But now the Lib Dem administration felt it needed sharing with us less important back bench councillors

It all had an air of familiarity about it! I remembered back to 1998 in the pre millennium days when we drew up similar plans for a Millennium Mile on the same site. Mark Fisher the then Arts Minister joined myself as the town's MP and Will Alsop and Roger Zagolavich and Marie Dickie as Chair of the project to look at what was possible. Will (an internationally renown architect) had a vision for a series of buildings which bridged over the river on stilts which would could  house amongst other things a National Shoe Museum and restaurants and art galleries. Despite our best intentions It was in the end all fornothing, the opposition at the time (Tory/Lib Dem) threw cold water over our plans saying they were not realistic, too grand, the buildings too wacky!

Will's design for the National Shoe Museum went on to become Peckham Library (left) and won a European prize for architecture in the bargain, and the planners having dismissed our radical ambitions went back to sleep and congratulated themselves and the Lib Dem opposition on having scuppered our vision.

So now the roles were reversed! Now the Lib Dem's wanted our views on their plans, but what would they entail? more lights and fountains? a shining monument to a new coalition government? The only way of me finding out was by attending, so I did.

I was thoroughly underwhelmed! What plans did they have to use the space for future city dwellers to enjoy the riverside in a vibrant go ahead town?

Well dog walking was suggested, or a fitness trail! maybe a motorhome park! Other suggestions from the officer group workshop and the assembled councilors included bird hides and dipping platforms!

Now I have nothing against any of the above activities, and I am sure people derive hours of pleasure from them, but this was "City Meadows" This was our chance to put Northampton on the map and having shot down Will Alsop in 1999 surely the Liberals could have spent the Councils cash more carefully rather than engaging consultants and using officer time to come up with a plan to turn Northampton Town Centre riverside into a Pocket Park!

This is a key gateway to the town the consultant kept reminding us before waxing on lyrically on about integrated street furniture the location of hubs and a possible equestrian centre!

Just where is the real vision I asked? What is it about our council that cannot see what is happening elsewhere all around them ? I pleaded with them for once to have some balls, and to think the unthinkable and to use the space and opportunity to think and do something big to locate something of iconic size and value at little cost to the Council.

"Why don't we go out to the market I suggested, tell them we have free open land available in a town centre environment for  a national project looking to be innovative and exciting. And then use such a facility/building to act as a catalyst to bring more  people down to the riverside where we can then provide even additional facilities for them.

I reminded them of (hush hush) Milton Keynes and the Snow Dome and the MK Bowl and asked why we couldn't compete and for once do something that is a little bit more adventurous than rambling.

Open mouths, silence and then a spark of energy from the back benches of the administration and some opposition Councillors, "yes why not" they all joined in. The moment was almost revolutionary the worm may just have turned?

So help me keep it that way, help me maintain the enthusiasm of others and tell me what should we chase as our dream for the meadow? The peoples plan! free from consultants invoices!

The largest in town outdoor music venue in the UK outside Hyde Park? An Iconic tall building to celebrate Northampton's rebirth? an ecosphere? an HQ for a national sport? and do you agree that we should chase ideas from the market/rest of the UK? spend our money on offering the site rather than on consultants and bridleways

I would welcome your views.


  1. So the wheel starts to turn!Wwe came damn close with the Millennium Park, all that held us back was the demands of the Dome in London that was eating up cash and the fastidious cowardice ofv the opposition and indeed some of our own side.
    The Will Alsop plans were exciting and revolutionary and indeed would have put Northampton on the tourist map ,as well as the centre for cultural regeneration.
    Church burbles on about regeneration, and ends up with a cutesy fountain and some lights.Even the wonderful Lions had nothing to do with them(but then Trini Crake and Meredith get to write letters of appreciation of themselves in the paper!)
    And,if their failure to support our Millennium bid was not cowardice enough I still have the photo of Church introducing Clegg MEP to the late Tom Hancock and looking at the plans for Lifespace in Delapre.
    A privately funded project that would have rivalled the Eden Project.
    That too was a real regeneration project that would have brought real jobs and inward investment to the town.
    If you want to read the full story-look at my MPA thesis lodged at Warwick Business School.Read the direct quotes from Church and wince.
    By the way is it the same Church who objected to retired councillors getting Hon.Aldermanic titles "as a reward for being political hacks"
    Will it be the same Church who accepts a peerage from the Lib-Dems for "political services?2
    The hypocrite !!

  2. Hi there Tony - just saw this piece and and JDs response.

    The wheel turns full circle doesn't it. I won the bi-election in St Crispin Ward in 1998 and sat with yourself and John on the red benches.

    I honestly believe the plans we had for the town were visionary. The Millenium Mile, LifeSpace, RTI and even yes, IKEA close to Grange Park would have put the town on the map and we would all be living in a different, more prosperous town today.

    Those plans were 'put down' by Cllr Church and Co. We now see IKEA in MK thriving and business and opportunity bursting around it, we see RTI schemes regenerating cities and towns across the UK .... the rest is history.

    And what do the new modern Lib Dems and the officers (or are they the same) offer us? Dog walking, fitness trails and a motorhome park (is that we were are paying our taxes for? Is that the best ideas they can have?)

    JD was right - Clegg did come and look at the plans and pose for the Chron at the time. I think I took the photo!

    If the Lib Dems had shown some spine at the time, they would now govern a modern town, with high employment with families coming into the town every week end not leaving, and for me and my passion for RTI, you would be able to travel through Kingsthorpe and into town on a guided bus and not sit in traffic every day, 365, 24/7 wondering where your council tax goes (ironic isnt it that Kingsthorpe is a Lib Dem stronghold and suffers more than anywhere from short term decisions)

    I passionately believe that on this matter, John showed vision and leadership for our town.

    The Lib Dems bring us dogwalking and motorhomes.





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