The cabinet decision!!

After a debate at Wycombe District Council Offices  tonight  the Cabinet Voted in favour of Option 1:

End the scheme

WDC stops work on the Wycombe Air Park plans. This ends the scheme.

We have a victory!

 

And a massive thank you to all those who donated, who supported us and who demonstrated be it last Saturday or out in the cold and wet earlier in the year.

And do feel free to add to the comments!

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Further photos…

Please look in the Photos Section for more snaps from last Saturday’s White Elephant Parade

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Day in the life of the Event organiser

When the organiser (me) arose Saturday morning it was just spitting with rain. The weather forecast indicated rain clearing to the east and my hopes rose. However, they were soon dashed when the heavens opened. Too late to stop now (you try stopping a charging elephant). Mickey was flying in on a transatlantic glider at 10:00 and the vehicles were loaded.

The advance team arrived at the venue at midday but the rain continued to pour. Everyone in full waterproofs was quite a sight and with no obvious let up in the weather everything was going to get very wet. Was this event going to be a damp squib? Suddenly the rain slowed, the sky became brighter – was this the light at the end of the tunnel? Nope it started pouring again.

We soldiered on and everyone was so busy getting the prep done we failed to notice it had stopped raining. It was only when people started to shed clothing that it dawned on us – the sun was out!

It was barely 13:30 and people had started to arrive in quantity. Time to change gear. Staging vehicle was there. PA setup organised. Banner out and in place. Marshals there. Hundreds now there! 14:30 OH MY GOD it’s off time.

The masses moved and it was unstoppable!

First venue point was outside WDC building. By the time I had arrived the photographers had utilised our staging vehicle the people kept pouring in, they came and they continued to come. Time to stem the flow out of the underpass.
Photography over and we still had a snake of people way back down the tunnel. Had to keep them moving now.

Next hurdle – the one I was dreading – how to get hundreds maybe thousands of people across Queen Victoria street with a constant flow of passing traffic. The plan was to use the traffic lights but we knew it would present a problem. Suddenly without any prompting the whole crowd turned like a flock of migrating starlings and crossed the street amongst stationary traffic. Within a blink everyone was on the other side. Only a few stragglers were stuck and with the assistance of a 4×4 driver who kindly stopped and waved them across and were again reunited with the pack.

I needed to get to the front but our white Elephant accompanied his brother and Mickey must have been on steroids as they were gone. It was obvious I was not going to get to the head of the precession and I was rather moved by one young mum with a child in a pushchair who was leading a really excellent chant that I walked along side and offered her the mic to the loud hailer. It certainly boosted the enthusiasm. If anyone knows who that young lady was please contact us so I can say a personal thank you.

Arriving at Frogmore I was relieved to find the staging vehicle placed. GASP speakers aboard and the PA fully working. As I beckoned to the stragglers coming around the curve in Church St to keep moving and vocal they kept coming. A bit fragmented by this time but they marched on. Eventually the rear guard appeared, accompanied by our two police officers, and I knew the flock was all there. The numbers continued to swell as bystanders came to join, moved by our enthusiasm.

The speeches were now in full swing and almost everything out of my control. I just had to wait and be available should an incident occur.

Suddenly, the show was over and the crowd dispersed but not for me and a small group of helpers. Time to clear up and get the equipment away, ready to fight another day if need be.

I would like to thank my small team who performed faultlessly with their individual tasks. I must say a special thank you to all the volunteers who handed out thousands upon thousands of leaflets and, as one of those, will be writing an article on hazards of letterbox design at some stage!

Thank you to Thames Valley Police for guidance and reassurance with minimal presence on the day and to all the people who provided support and equipment who are too numerous to mention individually.

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GASP chairman comments on Parade

Well, what can I say?  Brilliant!  A fantastic turnout, particularly given the threat of a soaking from heavy rain and the rumours put about suggesting that the decision was a done deal and so inferring there was no need to turn up.

The whole event was brilliantly organised, marshalled, orchestrated and executed – from the pre-event signs that appeared around the area (the ‘White Elephant’ sign on the road into Marlow from the A404 caught my eye on the drive home on Friday night!); the buzz from the downloadable elephant masks;  through to the on the day signage (there was no doubt where it was being held); the marshalling was excellent; provision  of banners/signs, etc. masterful and the end piece of having a mobile platform with a p.a. that worked made it an incredibly professional and effective event.

Throw in the stalwart efforts of Michael Mouse and the White Elephants, the people who distributed leaflets and collected signatures and the many others who were obviously working behind the scenes to ensure everything came together so well made it a day to remember.

The coverage on BFP’s website has been really good – an article plus a video news item gave a pretty good representation of the event.  I see fellow GASP’ers have been beavering away already on putting details on the website/blog and the Liberals have already posted details of the event.  Social Media is certainly paying dividends with local MP Steve Baker retweeting one of the BFP articles and talking about “democratic participation”.  I can see the BFP articles are kicking off plenty of feedback too.

Anyway thought I’d just say an absolutely massive THANK YOU to everybody who contributed to making the day so successful.  Like the old parable of a swan, I’m sure that the smooth running of the event was accompanied by an awful lot of hard work behind the scenes.  All I can say is…it’s appreciated!

Cheers
Gary

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For Those Who Did The Parade We Salute You!

Thanks for turning up today! No doubt we’ll have a report for you very soon. In the mean time here are a few snaps!

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Today’s the day – The White Elephant Parade

If you care  – BE THERE

2.00 for 2.30 in the Rye.  There’ll be signs up directing you to the start!

So Please – bring all your friends, your family, your neighbours and strangers.

Oh yes – and possibly a brolly!

Remember, you can still download a White Elephant Mask (see top menu). Here’s one that was spotted at the HS2 demo last week…

 

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It’s a plan, but is it a good one?

At last we see a plan. £500,000 of ratepayers’ money has been spent so far on investigations into the new stadium proposals without the public having a basic idea of what we’re being offered and whether the figures can work.

We now understand that the project is intended to be built in stages, the first phase being the stadium. Sports clubs who are attracted by the hype, be warned. All other elements, such as a
Badminton Complex, will need to go through the usual planning process and will have to be fully funded by the sports clubs themselves, not WSDL. Let’s be clear, WSDL gets what it wants now. The community has to pay for its own facilities and might or might not get them in the future.

The clubs argue that the project is a good idea as it will create 400 new jobs. Really? The Community Needs and Benefits Statement from the 2010 consultation referred to 60 new full-time jobs. Presumably the extra 340 are part-time match-day jobs. In employment terms, is this a good trade for the 300 skilled, service industry careers that are existing at the air park that will be lost should the stadium development go ahead?

Around 2,500 car parking spaces have been conveniently omitted from the artists impression shown in the BFP last week. You may also note that the runway runs off the edge of the site and the land rises gently behind the stadium. This is surprising as the Air Park is on a plateau and the land behind actually drops down towards Marlow. The plateau effect means noise and light will be a big issue with a 24-7 stadium. The artist’s impression is a pretty picture with little veracity behind it.

We are told that Council funding will be limited to enabling land for 506 houses, on 32 acres. Those plots would have to very small, so small that it’s unlikely they’ll command a high enough price to match the funds needed, especially in the current depressed housing market. This means that more land would be required for more houses, thus ironically reducing the space for any ‘Sports Village’.

Let us try to understand the logic of the numbers. The business plan suggests that the ‘new stadium effect’ produces an increase in attendance of up to 40%. It is rather unusual, then, that the clubs have used increases of well over 100% in their financial predictions. WSDL has produced no evidence of where these new fans will come from, just the vague hope that ‘if we build it and they will come.’

In reality attracting additional fans to matches is difficult in this financial climate. Furthermore, within a 35 mile radius there are four rugby and six football clubs, all doing their utmost to increase fan numbers. Massive planned hikes in ticket prices hardly suggests a thought-through strategy for persuading fans to transfer their allegiance to a new venue.

WSDL dismisses the transport issues that will inevitably occur if the stadium goes ahead. A 24-7 venue, with 500+ houses with a couple of cars each? The chaos is best illustrated by the times the  M40 is closed and traffic is diverted through Stokenchurch and the B482 Marlow Road, or simply at John Lewis sale time. WSDL has outlined 4 entrance road and 5 exits, which may get cars off site quickly, but will dump them straight onto local roads. In fact, the fifth exit they specify is currently a pleasant public footpath towards Lane End in the middle of AONB and the proposed new road from J4 would also carve through what are currently green fields.

Let’s look at WSDL’s proposed mortgage plan. What WSDL is actually proposing is for WDC to turn down the current rent for a reduced payment of possibly £150k. WDC will get this if the teams perform better and if the stadium naming rights are sold and if their high risk strategy of ‘if we build it, they will come’ pans out and more fans miraculously appear in their thousands. The undeniable facts are: we’re living in straitened times, sponsorship is reducing and match attendances are in long-term decline. If it doesn’t work, Wycombe
District Council will shoulder the deficit, not WSDL. There are too many ‘ifs’ for our liking.

Like much of the hype from WSDL, the facts are rather different to the publicity.

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Don’t believe the hype

10th July 2011
To:WDC Cabinet Members
CC: WDC Councillors

PROPOSED SPORTS STADIUM PROJECT

Wycombe Sports Development Ltd is currently engaged in some last minute hype, masquerading as “community awareness”, of their proposal for a rugby & football stadium plus a possible community sporting facility at Wycombe Air Park. Their activities include publishing several pretty pictures, drawn with more than a degree of artistic licence, and presentations to various organisations, including WDC’s Cabinet & Councillors. These presentations include much rhetoric, talking about providing something “for the community” which will “leave a legacy” and “Put Wycombe on the map” by providing a stadium which is “World-Class” and “Iconic”.

On 18th July WDC’s Cabinet will announce its decision about which of the four options it has chosen. It’s therefore an appropriate time to cast some light on these claims, a response to which I’ve provided below. Additionally, GASP is reviewing the contents of the Strategic Outline Business Case and will be providing a thoroughly researched response to the document.

It’s important to ensure Cabinet’s awareness of several crucial elements to which I’m sure Members will be giving considerable thought to:

LEGACY

Correspondence (obtained from the National Archives) from 1963 between the Ministry of Aviation, Ministry of Housing & Local Government and Wycombe Rural District Council stated the rationale for selling the land at below market rate as being to preserve the airfield and prevent it being lost to flying to “some large firm of developers”. This prescient statement shows how the Air Park came ultimately into WDC’s possession as a legacy to preserve gliding and flying. A legacy from which there was no intent to make a speculative gain.

In 1947, former Wycombe Wanderers footballer Frank Adams GAVE the deeds of Loakes Park to WWFC for their lifetime. The conditions of the deeds were later negotiated so that the club could move to its new home at Adams Park, so named after the benefactor in 1990. This is a powerful example from local history of a legacy being provided for the benefit of the community, from which the benefactor gained no financial benefit.

It should be remembered that genuine legacies are provided in a way that the benefactor expects no reward and doesn’t force others to contribute. Also, legacies aren’t introduced by trampling upon previous legacies. Building on Wycombe Air Park would fatally harm the legacy of gliding and flying.

Forcing Wycombe Wanderers away from the site that they own in order to become a tenant of a site that they don’t own runs counter to the Frank Adams legacy.

PUTTING WYCOMBE ON THE MAP

The proposed stadium design is supposed to be “World Class” and “Iconic” but, to any non-rugby/football aficionado, it doesn’t look any different from the 70+ sports, or 130+ football/rugby stadia in the UK. Of the 130+ football/stadia, you may wish to ponder which of these you know to be “iconic” in being unique in architecture/design/appearance and which you’re simply aware of because of the club that plays there.

Those who consider that having a stadium puts the district ‘on the map’ should consider asking whether Fratton Park (a 20,000 seater stadium) has put the local area on the map. Or perhaps Carrow Road (a 26,000 seater stadium) or even Home Park (a 19,500 seater stadium). Unless you’re a football or rugby fan, it’s unlikely you’ll know where these places are and it shows that stadia do not put a District “on the map”.

GREEN BELT

The “Very Special Circumstances” case for building on Green Belt wasn’t considered to have been met by South Bucks District Council when they rejected Pinewood Studio’s recent planning application. That was despite the potential to it leading to 950 permanent jobs and £60 Million pounds to the economy each year.

The preservation of Green Belt has been oft cited as a Conservative Party basic principle and was, I believe, ratified at the recent annual Wycombe Conservatives Association meeting. The principle of preserving Green Belt is also supported cross-party and I’m sure you’re aware of the campaigning undertaken at the recent elections by other parties who’re against building on Green Belt. Any decision by Cabinet to endorse this philosophy by rejecting the proposal could not therefore be considered either political or predetermined.
Green Belt exists to prevent urban sprawl and to prevent the merging of villages and communities. Putting a housing development midway between Lane End, Cressex and Marlow Bottom would result in the exact situation for which Green Belt policy was established to prevent.

ECONOMIC BENEFIT

Much has been stated about the value to the area that Wycombe Wanderers and London Wasps bring and about the additional revenue that a new stadium would provide. However, there is a fundamental flaw with the analysis provided in IPW’s Strategic Outline Business Case that has been presented to Cabinet for review. It cites the Socio-Economic report produced by Savill’s in asserting that a new stadium would, as a base case (i.e. without increasing attendance) deliver an additional £2.9M benefit p.a. The analysis by Savill’s actually states that £2.49M could be delivered if stadium attendance for Wycombe Wanderers increased to 273% of the current 5,545 and London Wasps would have to increase to 208% of the current 7,995. Elsewhere the IPW document states that their research suggests the ‘new stadium effect’ as leading to a 46%, or worse just a 36% increase if the impact of promotion/relegation is removed from the comparison (and WWFC have already been promoted and it’s unlikely that London Wasps will be moving further up anytime soon).

Darlington’s Northern Echo stadium, despite being a 25,000 capacity stadium, didn’t appear in WDC’s January Cabinet report on stadia and yet it has managed to put Darlington on the map when the club went into administration and the current owner sees the stadium as a “noose around the club’s neck”.

Those who label Darlington as a one-off may therefore wish to consider Doncaster’s £32M Keepmoat Stadium which hit the press when it announced unexpected losses of £2.5M within two years of opening. In both cases, the stadiums have provided a disbenefit to the area (including one whereby the council was asked to underwrite the debts of the club concerned).

A negative impact claimed in the report is that London Wasps or Wycombe Wanderers could go out of business and yet, in the risk mitigation section, there’s acknowledgement that the Clubs could be “reborn”. If this were the case then the £7M p.a. cited as the current benefit to the area provided the Clubs would remain…although ownership might not.

No consideration has been given either to the disbenefit of having a single central sports facility – either to the outlying areas of the District or to the existing sports facilities, including the NATIONAL Sports Centre at Bisham or the local amateur sports clubs (or indeed existing Council facilities). An additional sports site would have a cannibalisation effect on the economic wellbeing of existing facilities and this should be taken into consideration.

CLUBS’ FINANCIAL SECURITY

Neither Club has managed to breakeven for several years and to suggest that adopting the philosophy of the film Field of Dreams that “Build it and they will come” will suffice really doesn’t stack up.
WSDL recently stated that for the project to be viable it would need London Wasps attendance to increase to 15,000. This means an increase of 87% from the current 7,995. Yet WSDL has also stated that they believe that they could achieve an increase in attendance, based on other stadia, of 40%. One could conclude therefore that if 87% is required but only 40% is expected that they expect the Clubs not to succeed but to simply fail more slowly.

Wycombe Wanderers owns its current stadium, which is only 20 years old, and would lose this security if it became a tenant. The proposition is that without London Wasps, Wycombe Wanderers cannot survive. That may be the case currently because the Clubs have common ownership and so are intentionally run with this form of financial dependence. Wycombe Wanderers has been profitable in the past and could be independently profitable again in the future. What the Clubs need is for their businesses to be run differently, not for them to force the Council into a “Build us a new stadium or else” situation.

BIG SOCIETY

Wycombe District Council is undertaking work to establish how to best deliver against the current Central Government thinking around localised, community-based, decision making. The way that the stadium project has been run to date is a textbook example of how NOT to involve the community. Cabinet has the opportunity to now take on board the feelings of the community and stop the project on 18th July.

CONCLUSIONS

• Legacies don’t crush existing legacies, and they come from benefactors who give but don’t expect to receive
• A stadium may hold some novelty factor but the proposal is neither World class nor iconic
• The proposal could put Wycombe on the map for the wrong reasons
• The claimed Economic Benefits are undermined by research commissioned by WDC
• The Business Case proves it’ll fail
I would urge WDC Cabinet members to examine closely the rationale for considering funding and building a new stadium on Green Belt. Once you look behind the artist impressions you’ll see the risks imposed on the Council by the project, the harm to existing legacies, businesses and communities that could be inflicted, and the fact that the business case simply doesn’t add up.

Kind regards
Gary Nuttall
Chairman – GASP (Groups Against the Stadium Proposals)

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the business case for the stadium – does it stack up?

A letter sent today to the Cabinet members from GASP Chairman Gary Nuttall, explaining the problems with the business case…

12th July 2011

To: WDC Cabinet
CC: WDC Councillors

Proposed Stadium project and IPW/WDC Strategic Outline Business Case

The recently published report on Swansea Council’s Liberty Stadium by Price WaterhouseCoopers LLP for the Welsh Audit Office makes sobering reading. I repeat below an extract from a South Wales Evening Post report (June 11th 2011):

“THE way the Liberty Stadium is financed is unsustainable, according to a report into the way it is funded.
The home of the Swans and the Ospreys was opened in 2005, at a cost of £44.8 million, largely funded by Swansea Council.
The facility is run by the Swansea Stadium Management Company, (SSMC) which is made up of representatives from Swansea Council and the two sports clubs, but a Wales Audit Office study, dated from January this year, concludes the “financial position of SSMC remains precarious and the current revenue sharing arrangements are considered unsustainable”.

It also reveals that Swansea Council made a further loan to the SSMC in 2005, for £2.6 million, which it later wrote off, even though auditors “were not aware of any reason why such a loan could not have been sought from a commercial lender”.

The report also reveals that, to date, Swansea Council has not received any repayments from the SSMC — despite additional, well attended concert events from artists such as The Who, Rod Stewart and Pink.”

There are many parallels to what is being proposed by Wycombe District Council and I would urge Cabinet members to consider its findings in deciding what the real risks the Council would be exposed to by a sports stadia project. The Liberty Stadium is cited in the IPW Business Case as a great example of a “success” because they, like WSDL, have measured success solely in terms of attendance and haven’t considered the rather more important financial side of the equation.

I’ve previously written to Cabinet members identifying other recent stadium project failures – such as Darlington in February (“Chairman Raj Singh has said that he may walk away from the club after the holding company that owns the club’s Northern Echo Arena stadium and the surrounding land was placed into receivership”) and Doncaster’s loss-making Keepmoat stadium. Combined with the latest news from Swansea it shows that stadia project are high risk ventures that do not offer the right risk versus reward balance.

Looking more closely at the IPW/WDC Strategic Outline Business Case, it is clear that many of the stated benefits are either unachievable or unrealistic and I have summarised a few of them below:

Economic benefit
CLAIM: “Project ‘base case’ minimum will deliver additional annual economic impact of £2.9m per annum (Socio-Economic and Community Needs Assessment – Savills, 2010)”
The Savills report actually states that there’s the potential uplift of £2.49M economic benefit providing attendance at both rugby and football matches at least doubles. IPW’s assertion elsewhere in the SOBC is that expected attendance increase are between 36-46%. IPW is therefore claiming a potential economic benefit that is dismissed by their own analysis elsewhere in the document.

A recent WDC report (Savills?) also suggests that the failure of other stadia projects to deliver benefits has been when an out of town site has been used. As the primary means of access to the stadia is either directly by car or via park & ride facilities, then there is no prospect of visitors spending money with local shops except for those located at the stadium complex. The proposal will not therefore provide the claimed economic benefit to the area.

Financial benefit
CLAIM: “the Council would receive an annual rental payment for the stadium and wider site, and would benefit financially from higher attendances at the stadium”

Elsewhere in the document this rental is shown as £520,000 per annum but checking the table in the annex (Table 3.3 – WSDL rental payments) shows that the Council would be guaranteed to receive just £100,000 p.a. Any other amounts would be dependent upon a training academy being established (something that the document suggests would not happen initially), a share of the naming rights (although it doesn’t explain who else receives a share and what the apportionment would be). Finally, and critically, the remaining £320,000 would be based on attendance. This therefore places the risk element for achieving increased crowds upon the Council.

There is a comment made that the Council would cap its spending at £25M (and yet the estimated project costs show WDC’s contribution as £31M). Irrespective of any proposed cap, there is a very real risk that the Council could be exposed to the need to supply additional funding lest the project is not completed or doesn’t achieve the desired outcomes. Swansea, Doncaster and Darlington all show how it is that to avoid a “White Elephant” it has been necessary to provide additional funding above what was originally agreed.

Social and community benefit
No consideration has been given to the adverse effect on local business that the increased traffic congestion from locating a stadium, sporting facilities, sports village and several hundred houses at the Air Park would be. The aim of the stadium is to attract more people to the area but traffic jams and queues will lead to the opposite as people choose to instead shop in Reading, Uxbridge, Maidenhead, Oxford, etc.

Sporting benefit
The document describes synthetic turf pitches, a 3G football pitch, three grass football pitches, two 4G rugby pitches and five a side pitches. It appears therefore that the proposal is to primarily increase the number of rugby and football pitches and yet WDC’s own assessment of existing sports facilities shows that the District already has plenty of pitches (more than the national average).

Strategic Need
These are compliance requirements as the Council is required to ensure that any project aims and benefits are aligned with the appropriate Council strategies. There is no evidence of how this project delivers against SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Timely – as defined by OGC) and it simply lists various strategy documents without identifying specifically how the project would deliver benefits, how they would be measured nor what plan would be put in place to ensure their delivery.

Enabling Development
Whilst not identified as a benefit, I felt it important to review a few of the claims regarding the potential housing development.
The business case states that there would be 506 houses built, of which 20% would be affordable. This goes against WDC policy which suggests that 40% should be affordable. One should question therefore what the impact of this variation would have – either on the fund raising potential or on the need for additional housing (and the additional impact on roads and infrastructure).

On Monday 11th July, WSDL issued a statement that was reported in BFP which said that “These homes can only be developed because of the Sporting Village – as they are a development than “enables” community benefit”. This raises serious alarm bells because the business case suggests that the sporting village could be a possible future phase (i.e. not guaranteed) and that the facilities would need to be funded by amateur clubs. Yet WSDL is now stating something completely different.

I hope that I have provided sufficient information for you to now make a more considered decision about the proposal. I would urge you to weigh up the possible benefits (which don’t seem as good as initially proposed) against the very real and very serious risks – both to the Council and ratepayers, the community and the countryside.

Kind regards
Gary Nuttall
Chairman – GASP (Groups Against the Stadium Proposals)

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Home & Rye

Here’s a rough & ready map showing our assembly point on the Rye for Saturday’s White Elephant Parade. See you there.

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