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Bracknell New Town Blues

Terry Pearce, Bracknell Amicus Branch Chair

 

Over the last few months I have been campaigning against plans to re-develop the town centre of Bracknell, the town where I live. With the support of my Amicus trade union branch and a few other activists we have tried to raise public consciousness regarding the worst aspects of this development.

Our three main concerns centre on the following:

Firstly the developers plan to close our bus station, which is located adjacent to the railway station and is a hub for buses and coaches serving not only Bracknell but London and elsewhere. The plan is to re-locate the bus station 10/15 minutes walk away and instead of a large bus station we are being offered a couple of lay-bys in the wrong place. This would inconvenience many of the most vulnerable in our community, like the elderly, disabled and parents with kids, anyway the whole plan flies in the face of integrated public transport thinking.

Secondly, Bracknell with a population of around 110,000, has no hospital in the community that caters for a full range of sicknesses, many people have to travel many miles to Slough or Reading to receive treatment, for those without their own car this can be a whole day of travelling. You would have thought that the re-development of the town centre would be the ideal opportunity to tackle this issue, however all that is planned is to replace the health centre with a Healthplex (sic). The Healthplex would have no beds and is totally inadequate to meet the needs of an ageing and expanding community. The least that would be acceptable would be a cottage style hospital with beds and extensive facilities, this would at least bridge the gap until a fully equipped new hospital was built.

The third area of concern is the fact that at present in the town there is a range of shops from expensive departmental stores to small inexpensive retailers and charity shops, this balance is under threat from the developers plans. Clearly the developers want to maximise the profits they can squeeze out of this project and there is no place for these community based retail outlets in their plans. The argument of the developers is that Bracknell is a prosperous town and there is no real demand for public transport and cheap shops.

My union branch, of which I am Chairman, passed a resolution protesting at these aspects of the plan, this was issued as a press release. I contacted the Labour Group on the Council (6 out of 42 on the Council) as well as my own Labour Councillors. I eventually arranged to meet these councillors and to my horror found that they were supporting the plans lock stock and barrel. The leader of the Labour Group told me she had never used the bus station and did not know it was a issue. I learnt at this stage that there were now only 18 members of the Labour Party in the town as compared to the nearly 1000 members when we were members, such is the decline of the LP at grassroots level since the Blairite takeover. She assured me that she would raise my issues at the next Labour Group meeting, before leaving she invited me to re-join the LP, an invitation I easily declined.

I arranged to meet one Victor Nicholls, Head of Strategy & Partnerships (the head honcho for the local Council on the regeneration team), he was very friendly to start with until I suggested that the council was in the pocket of the developer. I pointed out to him that 20% of local residents did not have their own cars and were therefore dependent on public transport, he was by this time clearly wanting to terminate our meeting. I asked him if he had ever visited the Oxfam shop which is always busy with people on low incomes, he said he had not but that he would do so. I had been given permission by Oxfam to represent their interests at this meeting and suggested that there should be a bloc of retail units set aside under the new plans for community shops, I suggested at least 6, he said that he did not think the developers would consider this, especially when I proposed that rents be well below the so called economic levels. We left on not very cordial terms.  

A couple of weeks ago I sent via the local press an open letter to all the candidates standing at the General Election challenging them to state their position on the issues I had raised, so far only the Liberal Democrat candidate has responded. The Liberal  Democrat candidate, to my surprise, replied in total agreement with the points that I had raised and sent me copies of his submission to the Council. The Labour Party seems to be almost totally invisible at this election and either do not care about the issues although they would win public support if they campaigned around these questions. The Tories have a massive majority and are contemptuous of the views of the most vulnerable sections of our community.

I think that the trade unions in the absence of a campaigning local Labour Party should intervene in community struggles, I remember when we had 20 Militant comrades in the town we intervened in many local campaigns and struggles. With the demise of the Labour Party at grassroots level we must again take up the struggle, inspired by the Bin Tax fight in Dublin. If we do not the greedy developers will strip the town of its community assets, as they have done in so many other towns. Just like the selling off of school playing fields by the Tories we are now seeing the selling off of bus stations, in Colchester for example the same thing is occurring. Due to the setbacks we have suffered over the past few years the organisations of the working class have become severely weakened in many local communities. We have a responsibility to start the process of fight back and in our own small way we are in Bracknell beginning that process.     

 

 

May 2005

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