4 March 2011

The Etsome Terrorists..........

I've often heard it suggested that the Etsome Terrace deal was just a bit dodgy, not because it was so obviously lashed up by our revered ex-Vice Chairperson, Mr Tony Canvin, but because it didn't represent the best deal for Somerton and Somerton's ratepayers. Well, just out of interest I decided to see what I could find out from a closer examination of the various drawings of the site that are in the public domain.
I'm lucky enough to have a few title documents and those, along with various planning applications, have allowed me to assemble the diagram which appears below. As ever, double click on the image and it should open as a larger version.

The Etsome Terrace site is made up out of two elements, the land which was given to the Town by Cow & Gate in memory of those killed by the stray wartime bomb (the area edged blue) and the larger part bought from County in 2003 (edged yellow).
In 2007, after pissing about for 4 years, the Town Council suddenly aborted the time-wasting exercise which was the negotiations with the health centre providers, GPI, and sold two large chunks of the site to Edgar Homes. These elements are shown in solid red. However, there was a slight problem because the Town Council, out of stupidity or generosity (I don't know which) gave the roadway to the Edgar Homes for the cost of building it. This mechanism allowed Edgar Homes to maximise the use of the two plots but generated the need for an access road which the Council kindly enabled by taking a chunk (tinted grey) out of the 'gifted land' and adding a chunk from the land bought for 'community purposes (tinted green). In this way, the community paid for Edgar's access. Nice one Tony!
So far, so good but the real interest comes when you start to assess the area of land bought by Edgar Homes. I've just found a really neat little piece of software called ImageJ (which you can download free here in Windows, Linux and Mac formats) and this allows you to calculate relative areas from a drawing or photograph. (If you're smart you can get it to scale.) If you calculate the size of the two plots sold to Edgar Homes you find, rather surprisingly, that the area sold totals about 60% of the land purchased from County. Now I don't want to be picky but didn't County set a limit on the amount of land that could be sold and wasn't that limit 50%? Did County know about the 60%? I very much doubt it given the number and variations of drawings floating about. Then you can go on and calculate the area of roadway on the site and ImageJ tells me that almost 30% of the entire site (both the gifted land and the land bought from County) will be covered in tarmac. What a fantastic public amenity.
Oh yes, talking about 'public amenities, I stumbled upon some documentation at the Parish Rooms from the Public Works Loan Board and it made interesting reading. in 2003, the Town Council took out £600,000 of loans from the PWLB (being paid off for years from the Precept ie by you and me) and £250,000 was used to buy the Etsome Terrace land. The 'purpose' of the loan, as described in Mr Calderwood's documentation, is to buy land to create play areas and a public park. The strange thing about Etsome is that the Town already owned the memorial garden which was already a play area and today, instead of a 'public park' we have a derelict building site. What would the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister make of that, if that Office still existed? Surely the Town Council didn't instruct the Town Clerk to mislead the lenders?
Till next time, I'm still Niall Connolly