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Bringing our democracy to you

South Ribble residents invited to quiz cabinet at first public meeting South Ribble
South Ribble Borough Council is taking cabinet meetings to the people in a real boost to local democracy. 
Residents are invited to come along and make their voices heard at the first ‘Cabinet in the Community’ event at Bamber Bridge Methodist Church on Wednesday 13th October at 6pm.
Members of the public will have the chance to raise important issues in an hour-long Q&A session which will then be followed by the regular monthly cabinet meeting – in which key decisions are made about the council and its services.

The above is part of a recent press release by SRBC. In an effort to give this important meeting more publicity we have published it in the BBB.
We urge South Ribble residents with questions to ask of the local Council administration to attend this meeting, particularly residents from Bamber Bridge as it is being held in your own back yard.

With luck we may finally get an answer, promised many times by the Council leader, as to why £520,000 of Council Taxpayers money was wasted on the purchase of the McKenzie Arms for a specific purpose that never happened (Read article below to refresh your memory).

And perhaps someone can tell us why the design for the proposed Battle of Bamber Bridge memorial, as submitted by local residents and approved by many local councillors, was totally ignored in the final reckoning in favour of a nondescript design by outside agencies?

Our resident political correspondent is currently indisposed or these questions would certainly have been asked. However, if you are planning to attend the meeting, we would like to think that there will be someone brave enough to pose them!


McKenzie Arms Inquiry

(See follow on reports after this article)

As reported recently in the Lancashire Post, there is to be an official independent inquiry as to why £520,000 of tax payers money was spent on purchasing and demolishing the McKenzie Arms public house in Bamber Bridge for the specific purpose of providing a primary entrance and exit from Station Road, the main thoroughfare through the town, to the Wren Green housing development, currently under construction on the site of the now demolished Wesley Street Mill. (See Lancashire Post report at the end of the page)
Although a costly enterprise, it was welcomed by councillors, road users and residents alike as a sound and sensible decision in an area of the town that even now is quite seriously congested at peak times, and this is before the impact of the increased traffic flow from this new estate has been factored in.
It was with heavy and incredulous hearts that we later learned that this seemingly logical plan had been discarded by the developers in favour of a single point entrance and exit, to and from a narrow side street that already suffers from near gridlock at certain times during the day. It appears to us that the only logical reason for this decision was that it presented the developer with more building land and not, as is often conveniently quoted, an insoluble land swap issue.
How has this been allowed to happen after an outlay of over half-a-million pounds of public funds for one specific purpose? How has the developer been allowed to reject this preferred route in favour of a more advantageous (for him) route into the estate? These, among other issues, we would like to think, are the answers that the inquiry will seek to establish.
The first question that arises is who exactly is conducting this independent inquiry and just how independent will it be? Secondly, regardless of the findings, what actions will be taken? The one that most residents would welcome would be pressure on the developer to revert to the original plan of the primary entrance being through the site of the demolished McKenzie Arms to be enforced. However, we at the BBB believe that this will be highly unlikely unless the inquiry team is a body with teeth that can impose such a decision.

Despite their protestations that they have done nothing wrong, South Ribble Borough Council must accept some responsibility for the current unacceptable position. They tell us that legal issues (which are apparently secret) and the previously mentioned land swap concerns with the adjacent primary school, are the primary reasons which put the McKenzie route in doubt.
If this is the case then the purchase of the site should never have been considered until the site developer had been appointed. Negotiations could then have been conducted with the purchase of the McKenzie Arms only taking place by a contracted obligation from the developer to use it as the prime route to and from the estate.
Regardless of what we consider to be some poor decision making in the past, we are now where we are and for a meaningful inquiry to take place we believe that a series of questions, similar to those listed below, should be raised at the inquiry.   
1. As SRBC is a public body responsible for project expenditure, was the purchase of the McKenzie Arms fully researched as a viable proposition, with all safeguards in place to ensure that the project was achievable? Why were all potential legal issues, along with the land swap concerns not fully investigated before purchasing the site?                                                              2. Knowing that a considerable amount of public cash had been spent on a project with only one aim in view, why did SRBC not draw up a contractual agreement with the developers for the McKenzie Arms site to be the primary route into the development, despite any other route being also considered.                                                                                                                              3. When planning permission was sought by the developers to use Wesley Street as a possible route into the estate, why did SRBC not stipulate that because of public funds already committed to the purchase of the McKenzie Arms, then this request would only be considered as a secondary option and that the McKenzie site must always be considered as the primary route. Alternatively the developer should have been contracted to reimburse the council if they chose not to use the McKenzie Arms option.                                                                               4. Why were councillors not briefed by the SRBC Planning hierarchy before the Wesley Street option was voted on that a vote for Wesley Street would give the developer the choice of either option whilst discarding the other. As soon as Wesley Street received planning approval, the developer dropped the McKenzie option like a hot potato. We are aware that at least one councillor was not aware of this scenario when he voted for the Wesley Street option and he afterwards regretted this decision claiming ignorance of the potential outcome.

We urge all readers of the Lancashire Post and the BBB to keep an eye on these August publications for further news of this inquiry.

Follow on report

Not sure if this inquiry has been held. However, SRBC have made the  next move and the letter shown below has been issued to residents living in the vicinity of the McKenzie Arms site. 



It now appears that SRBC will be reviewing a number of options that have been suggested for the site. These options will then be put before residents in order that they can express an opinion. One of the options put forward by local councillor Barrie Yates is to use the site for sheltered housing, which he believes is a vital requirement for the elderly in this area. This and other options will be presented to residents who will no doubt express their preferences. It will be interesting to see just what will fill this area of Bamber Bridge. Whatever the final decision it cannot fail but to be an improvement on the 'Grot Spot' it has become.

Update - 1
We understand that the 'independent' inquiry has not yet been concluded but have received assurance that the outcome will be reported to councillors in March. However, we hope that the report will reach a wider audience than just the councillors. The public in general and local residents in particular MUST have sight of these findings. After all, it was their £520,000 that was spent on purchasing this 'white elephant' and they deserve to be kept in the picture! - Hope you are listening SRBC!

Update - 2
We have recently been informed that the land previously occupied by the McKenzie Arms public house in Bamber Bridge, originally purchased as the primary entrance/exit into the Wren Green estate but now rejected by the developers, is to be used for affordable and mixed-use housing. This was confirmed recently by the Conservative Cabinet at South Ribble Council and supported by Conservative Councillors Barrie Yates & Jim Marsh. Labour Councillors objected to affordable houses and mixed-use housing on the site but did not give a reason why they objected. Councillors Yates & Marsh said,                                                        “This development will be welcomed by residents of Bamber Bridge and will be a big help for first time buyers to get on the housing ladder.”
We at the BBB were somewhat surprised as to why Labour Councillors would object to the land being used for the provision of affordable housing, particularly in the current climate where there are over 200 requests to SRBC  for this type of accommodation. Perhaps a representative of the party would like to inform us of why they would raise objections to what appears to be a laudable enterprise as it appears to be out of character with Labour party objectives and aspirations – or is there more to this situation than meets the eye?

Update - 3

We have received a number of enquiries from our readers with regards to the findings of the ‘independent’ enquiry on the unfortunate purchase of the McKenzie Arms by SRBC. We were assured that the findings would be concluded and conveyed to local councillors by the end of March and to the public soon after. We are now almost in June and to the best of our knowledge the result of the inquiry is still not available.
However, a rather disturbing rumour has been circulating that the enquiry has indeed been concluded and that the findings, for whatever reason, are to be kept ‘under wraps’. We sincerely hope that this is nothing more than an ugly rumour as the general public have a right to know why £520,000 of their Council Tax money has been wasted on what has turned out to be a very expensive ‘white elephant’.
It has also been rumoured that the McKenzie Arms issue may be connected in some way to the recent suspensions of the SRBC Chief Executive and her deputies. However, we stress that this is only an unconfirmed rumour and the two may not be linked.
We shall continue to campaign for answers to this issue and will of course publish our findings in a future issue of the BBB.

Hot of the Press - 25/06/19

We at the BBB believe that this decision will be welcomed by local residents as it did appear that these results would be kept under wraps and away from public scrutiny.
We therefore applaud Cllr Foster’s decision and eagerly await the publication of the findings, which of course we will publish as soon as they are made available.
We have also in possession of an interesting letter from a local resident on this very subject which you can read on page 2c.

Despite this pledge made nearly 2 years ago, it appears that the report remains a closely guarded secret. This of course only raises public concern that there is something to hide.     We have made numerous requests for the report to be made public with nothing forthcoming. We have also sent a 'Freedom of Information' request to SRBC but as yet have received no response. I think our request is being passed around the various council offices in the hope that it may get lost or that we forget about it. I can assure our readers that there is a bigger chance of Council Tax being reduced by 50% than letting this issue go!

Newsflash - 12/04/21
It now appears that our article has been read by someone higher up the political tree. It is possible therefore that involvement from above may help in the release of the report for public viewing. Time will tell

                 WATCH THIS SPACE!