Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Dunkirk and the Tram – who hoodwinked who?

Even though this corner shop made history, it could be needlessly demolished with the coming of the Tram. In 1863 it was Nottingham's first co-op shop opened by the then Lenton Co-operative Society (called the Lenton Industrial & Provident Society Ltd), which went onto become the Nottingham Co-operative Society.

All these buildings on Abbey Street will will be demolished if the Tram goes ahead, even though it is the more expensive option. The line of Tram could go on the other side of the road and would mean demolishing only one house and taking a small part of Priory Park. As in Dunkirk, a more expensive option has been chosen.

This wall and much of the gardens behind it will go even though there is a cheaper route for the tram only metres away! I took this photograph on 3 November 2007. Seven days before there had been grass here, but the University has grubbed it all up during the week before the Public Inquiry into the Tram commenced.

Over the last couple of weeks my blog has suffered because, with Susan's help, I was preparing evidence for the Public Inquiry into the proposed two new tram lines from Nottingham Station to Clifton and Chilwell. It is the latter which has taken up all my time, as I sifted through Nottingham City Council's evidence to the Inquiry and, with Susan's help, made some last-minute discoveries which were sufficient to persuade our local MP, Alan Simpson, to do battle on behalf of the Greenfield Street residents in Dunkirk, who will lose large parts of their back gardens if the new Tram line to Chilwell follows the proposed route.

In fact, the evidence we found has so concerned Alan that he has sent it to the Ombudsman. Now, just in case you think I'm against the new Tram lines, I want to make it quite clear that I support the Tram 100% insomuch as I want the route around the Nottingham University Arts Centre changed and its route at the Gregory Street / Abbey Street junction in Old Lenton modified, but if the City Council and NET do not make any changes at the end of the day, I will still support the Tram. I just think that if the Council and NET had an ounce of decency and honour they would be announcing changes to the routes in Old Lenton and Dunkirk tomorrow.

When the Council and NET organised public consultations on the line of the Chilwell route around the University Arts Centre there were two options: One between the Arts Centre and Highfields Park; the other between the Arts Centre and the rear of the houses on Greenfield Street. The Council did not suggest that one route was preferable to the other and, given that a tram stop was proposed between the Arts Centre and Highfields Park, everyone I know and have spoken to expected the Tram to follow this route.

Then, earlier this year I found out that the other route had been chosen and people I know were to lose large chunks of their gardens and would have to live with the noise and vibration of the Tram for 363 days of the year. I couldn't understand at first how this had come about. Then one of the residents told me. The University had been allowed to build an extension to the Arts Centre which affected the line of the Tram route if it was to go between the Centre and Highfields Park.

How had this come about, especially since the new route was more expensive and meant the loss of over 60 parking spaces as well as buying parts of the back gardens of seventeen houses on Greenfield Street? Whatever way you looked at it, the chosen route did not make sense.

Ah, said the Council and NET, there is 'a tight curve' and we will have to take some of the Listed Highfields Park if we go between the Arts Centre and the park. These reasons did not exist during the 2003/4 consultation period. They only become public after the University has been allowed to build its extension to the Arts centre in 2006 with planning permission it received at the end of 2005.

How were the University given planning permission we asked at a Labour Party meeting in July 2007 which was attended by a senior person involved with planning the new Tram routes. He shrugged his shoulders and said it was 'an oversight'. In mid-October I was sent some technical drawings showing the Tram's route around the Arts Centre which contained a lot of other information too. It showed quite clearly that the 'tight curve' need be no tighter than the curves on the proposed route shown on the drawing and that a track could be put in which did not infringe on the park once constructed.

But the big discovery was made by Susan. She found the planning permission for the Arts Centre extension and it did have conditions attached to it, including one that said the new building had to built to a standard which mitigated the noise and vibration caused by the tram. Another document showed that there were no parking implications because all the parking was between the Arts Centre and the gardens on Greenfield Street. In other words, the Tram was going between the Arts Centre and the park!

So what changed between late-2005 and February 2007 when the Council's Executive Board made its decision about the route of the Tram? One can only conclude that someone, somewhere, applied pressure to get the route changed or wanted to cover up an oversight. Were the councillors making the decision told about the new building and that there were planning conditions before they chose the more expensive route? If they were told, then why were they willing to cause distress and upset to local residents and choose the more expensive route? These are questions which need answering.

When Alan Simpson saw the evidence, he was so concerned that he raised the matter in his submission to the Tram Public Inquiry last Thursday and has since written to the Ombudsman asking for a full investigation into the planning permission and to establish if the conditions were met. We will have to wait and see what the outcome is.

The Inspector at the Public Inquiry referred to my own written submission and Alan's much more damning submission, saying that the Council would almost certainly want to challenge our submissions in detail. I look forward to their reply and just how they are going to justify changing what they said during the public consultation a few years ago and what they are now telling the Inspector.

Just who hoodwinked who remains an unanswered question. Perhaps the Ombudsman will find the answers we can't get.

The Church of England ordained more women than men during 2006 (244 women, 234 men).

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