12 April 2010

Etsome Terrace - the lost opportunity.

The redundant Municipal Depot at Etsome Terrace provided a wonderful opportunity for Somerton Town Council to achieve two important ambitions for the Town - firstly, a long awaited Community Hall and, secondly, an expanded health centre. The animation below seeks to explain the progress at the site between 2000 and 2008 when Somerton Town Council sold off a chunk of Etsome Terrace as a residential development.

To me, the mis-management of the Etsome Terrace site is pretty breathtaking, especially when you consider that the proposal was handed to Somerton Town Council on a plate by Somerset County Council. All the Town Council had to do was to swap the residential element in the Dadson scheme for a health centre and the proposal would have ticked every conceivable box. So why didn't it happen? Well, the truth is, I don't know. I could speculate that the local development community didn't want Etsome Terrace being squandered on community projects when there was money to be made and that, other than Keenan/Canvin control freakery, remains my best guess.

In 2004 Somerton Town Council had the Dadson scheme (for free), they wanted a community hall and they were talking to health centre providers. All the pieces were in place yet they messed about, prevaricated, destroyed Etsome's real potential (with the Memorial Playground) and then exchanged a chunk of the site for the Tin Dunny. The bit that the Town retains is proposed as tarmac and of very limited value. In exchange, the Town has the Tin Dunny (a tawdry industrial box as far from the centre of town as you can get) and no health centre.

The real stumbling block might have been the Keenan/Canvin regime's need for TOTAL CONTROL. If the Town Council had attempted to execute the Dadson scheme then they would have probably had to do something they were pretty bad at - negotiation. They would have had to draw in the Community Hall Steering Group and all the stakeholders to undertake independent fundraising. That would have meant a loss of control and I suspect that wouldn't have been acceptable.

In comparison, the swap of land at Etsome for the Tin Dunny, no matter how bad a deal for the community, was a deal that Messers Keenan & Canvin could control and would therefore be far more attractive.

Either way, the situation that faces Somerton today is a pretty bleak one. Where is Somerton going to find affordable space for a new Health Centre? Somerton Town Council priced GPI out of Etsome Terrace in favour of residential developers and that will be a pattern that will almost certainly happen again. The development community in Somerton is just as greedy and avaricious as it is elsewhere and the money is in residential development so why should the development community accommodate a Health Centre when Somerton Town Council didn't?

So I'm left wondering how Somerton is going to find space for a new Health Centre and maybe Somerton needs a benefactor, someone with a piece of land big enough to accomodate a health centre but someone who is willing to forego top-dollar in order to help the community. I'm sure that there is someone out there, someone who can do the right thing.

Till next time, I'm Niall Connolly