Town deserves better

The Truth about Elswitha Quarter Plans. Headline, Thursday 4th April.

I am one of many who have either written to your paper or signed petitions in opposition to the proposal to build a budget hotel on Whitton Gardens. As the proposal unfolded during the summer months, the less I liked it.

Not being a resident of the town, I am less concerned over the ownership of the land than some and I am not in the least concerned which of the contractors do the building but I am concerned that the project so far is a bad business deal for me as a council tax payer. It is also a sadly missed opportunity to rebuild and re-brand the town to make it an attractive centre for residents and visitors.

I moved to Lincolnshire some 10 years ago from the south coast and have seen how towns and cities from Bristol to Poole and Portsmouth have created vibrant prosperous economies by clever re-development of tired waterfronts.

In fact you do not have to travel far to see what can be done. The Brayford Pool in Lincoln and the new development at Burton Waters are good examples of how river banks can be developed for local benefit.

Building on Whitton Gardens and the other pipe dreams highlighted in “The Standard” a couple of weeks earlier will hardly act as a magnet to encourage visitors from Nottingham, Leeds or Sheffield to the town to spend their money.

Just about any town of 15,000 or more will already have a budget hotel, a cinema and a McDonalds and KFC. Gainsborough needs something more inspired.

Why were the architects responsible for Marshall’s Yard not commissioned to come up with a brief? They have proved what can be done.

Councillor Reg Shore came up with an exciting suggestion of a major water feature or fountain in the town, where is it?

Other towns from Wimborne to Wisbeach attract 10,000s of thousands of visitors each year through either flower or folk festivals, or through well run street markets. Surely Gainsborough could do the same, these events can only happen if there is carefully planned, attractive, and protected open space in the town. The current plans will make this impossible.

I would even be surprised if the plans shown in “The Standard” a couple of weeks ago will ever be accomplished. If you were an investor would you spend millions of pounds on a cinema or bowling alley or themed restaurant unless there is adequate car parking near by.

Marshall’s Yard has 300 spaces and the plan shown in “ The Standard” would need more. A smaller similar development in Chichester, Chichester Gate, has 400 spaces. Where will the cars go? A car park on the other side of the river and a foot bridge over the Trent might be one solution.

One thing is certain the town deserves better.

The plan of Whitton Gardens is quite clear and so are the details of the covenants on the land that go with it. There is nothing to say that the land cannot be built on or sold sometime in the future but the covenants are carried forward with the ownership of the land. One relates to future building height and others to the prohibition of the sale of alcohol or the building of a hotel. They seem quite clear to me.

It does worry me that, if the land is sold off for a quick buck and the covenants ignored will future benefactors to the town be discouraged from making similar gifts?

The thing that saddens me most about the whole saga is that it need not have happened. It has been driven by political expediency rather than by experience or as a result of reasoned debate and discussion. With some £20 million in the bank the district council did not need to grab at the first £90,000 straw that came along, particularly when the land value must be close on three times this figure. (The district council has pencilled in an expected return of £600,000 from the sale of the Old Guildhall site so howWhitton Gardens can be valued at £90,000 is beyond me).

The original brief for the development was to bring new business to the area and to balance out the draw of Marshall’s Yard and bring in much needed new trade to the town. This requires inspirational ideas.

What happens if during consultation process these ideas are put on the table? Will the council listen? Or will the consultation be - you are getting a budget hotel - do you want red doors or blue? In Lincoln, the city council goes to great lengths to research public opinion on its various development plans, the people of Gainsborough deserve the same.

Christopher Darcel

(via email)