Question of the Week
How much would you accept for Omar Bogle?
By: Todd Bontoft
A strange date but Wednesday 6th December 2000 may turn out to be the most significant day in Grimsby Town's history when North East Lincolnshire Council meet at 7pm at Grimsby Town Hall to reconsider the proposals for a new stadium at Great Coates.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and without its help, it is impossible to say just how significant it may prove to be but it is hoped that we never ever find out!
I can only pray that by Thursday morning 'our' councillors have reversed their decision of 13th July and passed all the necessary technical decisions thus finally giving the green light to the development of the stadium. Councillors will not be passing planning permission for the stadium - that will follow more or less immediately afterwards - but they will be agreeing (hopefully) an amendment to the local plan allowing the land south of the A180 at Great Coates to be used for development of a stadium and its associated retail developments.
The more the mind contemplates the opposite and the nightmare image of the councillors once more turning down the stadium ....well let's just not!
The whole decision rests on the shoulders of only 30 councillors who are left eligible to vote, the rest disqualified by having an 'interest'. This 'interest' is as fickle as disqualifying those whose only crime is 'supporting the club' as well as the odd councillor who is a shareholder. Incredibly some amongst the 30, it may be argued, possibly have a potential business interest. But they will not be barred from voting unless they themselves have a sudden prick of conscience and similarly declare an interest.
The last time the council considered this issue the outcome was the voting down of the amendment to the local plan by 20 votes to nine. For July's original decision to be reversed requires a clear majority in favour. This means that in addition to the nine original votes, seven councillors that last time voted against must change their minds. Should the voting be tied at 15 votes to 15, the Mayor will have a further casting vote. It needs to be pointed out that it is difficult for one politician to admit they were wrong and change their mind never mind seven out of the possible twenty, one of whom just happens to be the mayor. But hopefully they will exploit the consultants' report they commissioned for all its worth arguing that its findings are reason enough for changing their views. The report, commissioned by the council, following the July meeting, looked in great depth at alternative possible sites and unequivocally recommended the Great Coates development. Placing the Great Coates site as the only realistic alternative.
The 'big fight live' on Wednesday will see in one corner the Nimbys of Great Coates armed with their own consultants' report and in the other corner will be Grimsby Town Football Club, its supporters and in spirit at least the overwhelming support of the people of North East Lincolnshire. The final outcome is by far too close to call but by the end of the fight one corner will be jubilant and the other distraught.
I will settle for a point's victory but a clear knockout, with a large majority voting for the stadium, will certainly go a long way in ensuring that it will not be overturned on appeal.
Having seen the report prepared for the Great Coates Civic Society by Graham D. Powell, Chartered Town Planner, it supports the aims of the Civic Society as far as his professional integrity allows. Without being disparaging for disparaging's sake it's fair to say that Mr Powell has written an excellent report that goes as far as possible to support the Nimbys' case. But crucially he is only able to chronicle all the history surrounding the stadium debate and suggest that the council looks again at three of the sites already considered by the council's consultants Gerald Eve Chartered Surveyors. The three sites are at Macaulay Lane, Peaks Parkway and Laceby Road and the report states that, not surprisingly, Great Coates is not the best suited to the proposed development. Furthermore, Mr Powell ensures that his recommendations and conclusions are fully insured by stating "further research may be necessary into certain technical matters related to this study".
When the Nimbys' light-weight 13 page report is compared to the council's own planning officers who are recommending the amendment to the local plan and the comprehensive and well-researched report of Gerald Eve there is little doubt that the technical arguments and justification for the development at Great Coates are overwhelming.
Another problem to overcome is the stubbornness of Councillor De Freitas and his small but significant group of Liberal Democrat colleagues. They have stated that 'out of principal' they will not support the stadium because of the retail development element of the plans. They view it as an out of town development but no-one appears to be realistically arguing anymore that it threatens Freshney Place! So you never know they may yet reconsider their position. Perhaps Councillor De Freitas should give some consideration to a far greater principal. You know the one called democracy and listening to the wishes and expressed views of the people. Just to remind all members of North East Lincolnshire Council there was a survey of the views of local people that resulted in an unequalled response from the people of North East Lincolnshire and one that no council survey has ever come close to matching!
In the week leading up to the July meeting the football club published the results of their comprehensive survey of every household in the entire county. Of the almost 14,000 who returned the questionnaire, 84 per cent supported building the stadium off the A180 at Great Coates, with 11 per cent opposed to the scheme. From Cleethorpes Park ward, which contains Blundell Park, there were 1,111 replies, 94 per cent of which supported the scheme. Even the ward that includes Great Coates had a majority vote in favour of the scheme with 63 per cent of the 1,160 respondents in favour, and 33 per cent against. Now there is a principal to uphold - listening to the views of the people that put you there!
But in the final analysis what happens on Wednesday, however illogical, may simply be down to you and I turning up and 'being there' to support the stadium. Last time around many members of North East Lincolnshire Council were clearly swayed by the numbers attending from Nimbyland and the depth of feeling they were able to put on display. This contrasted starkly with apparent apathy on behalf of stadium supporters (myself included).
There needs to be a counterbalance to the Nimbys by a substantial turnout of supporters in favour of the stadium. It simply is the case that if you want Grimsby Town Football Club to still be here for you and for future generations get yourself to the Town Hall on Wednesday.
The vote really is too close to call and who will be able to say they were there for this day of reckoning?
Please, please be there on Wednesday.
But as the whole thing seems to have been a tragic comedy of errors, it is fitting that the final thoughts must go to Woody Allen, who once said, "98 per cent of success is turning up".
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