29 November 2009

Hooda thunkit?

A few weeks back I read a short document written by a staffer at Somerset Waste Partnership (SWP), referring to their medium term funding plans. The 'proposed' Somerton Household Waste Recycling Centre (HWRC) at Badger's Cross got a mention so I made a Freedom of Information enquiry about the document and its background. On Saturday a weighty envelope dropped through the letterbox containing SWP's response. (SWP are a lot more professional and knowledgeable about the Freedom of Information Act than are Somerton Town Council and Roger Calderwood because SWP have made a real effort to answer my enquiry, and it only took 15 working days - thanks SWP.)

But I digress. The story of the Badger's Cross HWRC contains a few surprises, most notable the fact that this project, instigated entirely by Tony Canvin, was promoted by none other than our ex-County Councillor, Pauline Clarke. The documents make it clear that Pauline was Tony's cheerleader for much of the year between 19th October 2007, when she first pitched the project, till 17th October 2008 when a funding strategy (called 'innovative funding') was agreed internally at SWP.

What is even more interesting is that whilst SWP make it clear that they understood that, "he (Canvin) has made it very clear to the Somerton Community that he proposes to build a new site that we will take on.", the project was not in fact subject to any consultation with the community either by Tony Canvin or by County Councillor Pauline Clarke. This in itself is interesting because it once again illustrates how Tony Canvin operates - out of public view.

The documentation makes it clear that whilst the existing HWRC did have its shortcomings, none of these was significant enough to cause SWP to consider relocation, until Pauline Clarke started to promote the Canvin scheme. Canvin then sought to lash up a deal which was financially attractive to SWP and it is also clear that Canvin's ownership of the unadopted roadways at Bancombe was seen as a threat to the continued operation of the existing site. Thus pressure came on SWP from County Councillor Pauline Clarke and from Canvin, with regard to the financial benefit of relocating and the possibility of interrupted operations at Bancombe. Nowhere in this mix is there a single mention of the community.

It is worth speculating as to why Canvin would want to force the relocation of the HWRC from Bancombe to Badgers. Canvin did the original deal at Bancombe and must have considered the implications of the site being located there but clearly, at that time, it was a convenient arrangement. So why is it now less convenient? Much is made of the 'problems' that the Bancombe HWRC causes on the trading estate but anyone with half a brain could see that there is space outside the existing HWRC to create a lay-by which could accommodate the large trucks servicing the site. The much quoted traffic problems are clearly exaggerated and there is no significant ground-swell of public opinion which says that the Bancombe site must be relocated. So why is Canvin so keen to relocate?

The answer is, most probably, that relocating the HWRC to Badgers will form the first part of Canvin's wider plans to redevelop Badgers as Bancombe Mk2. The HWRC would be an 'anchor lease' and it would pay for the introduction of utilities, services and roadways onto the site. In effect, it would pay for the first stage of the Badger's redevelopment. Importantly, the HWRC is an operation whose location Canvin clearly believes he can influence through his access to political support and through his influence over the roadways at Bancombe.

The question that remains is to ask just how ex-County Councillor Pauline Clarke justified her involvement in this Canvin project and whether or not Canvin has sought to influence our new County Councillor Jimmy Zouche in a similar manner? Then, of course, there is the question as to whether or not this was the way that Somerton Town Council functioned, pre-27th October 2009. Whatever the case, it is very sad to learn that one of our elected representatives was representing an electorate of one.

Till next time.


PS If anyone wants to see the documents in question, please get in touch.