I attended the WDC Cabinet meeting in High Wycombe last night and was delighted to see that the community is becoming increasingly aware of the proposed stadium project, evidenced by the growing number of people protesting outside the Council offices. Perhaps this reflects the beginning of a true "Big Society" with the community showing their dissatisfaction with how local government is failing to properly consult? A theme that ran throughout the meeting's formal proceedings.
Councillors at the Cabinet meeting highlighted several showstoppers that the focus panel feedback had failed to identify. These included road access to the Air Park site turning into 'rat runs' through the local villages, funding by ratepayers, adverse impact on local businesses, the sheer scale of housing required, the additional infrastructure burden, the lack of communication by WDC to ratepayers that there was a consultation process underway and the major financial burden that relocating to a new stadium would place on Wycombe Wanderers. These concerns reflect the views of GASP and it was encouraging to see Councillors supporting the concerns of the community. There was an observation that it had been suggested that Adams Park could be redeveloped to provide a capacity of 17,500 at a cost of £17 Million and that this hadn't previously be identified for consideration. One Councillor asked about the principles behind the original sale of the land to WRDC (WDC's predecessor) at a discounted rate in order to avoid unscrupulous developers turning the airfield into a housing estate. Cllr Clarke retorted that this was not legally enforceable although it was unclear whether she was referring to the various covenants or to the associated documentation that has been found by GASP members whilst researching at the National Archive. She also stated that this had originally been done to prevent the Air Park from turning into another big London airport.
Cabinet members questioned whether the responses from the focus group (46 people from across the district) fairly represented the views of the rest of the community. Richard Cooper, who had conducted the panel process, acknowledged that he couldn't provide such analysis. He also confirmed that there was no representation from Lane End, the area most likely to be affected. He commented instead that he had used market research industry standards and closed with the point made in the focus group that WDC should "Take a little more time and make sure they get it right first time". This further vindicates GASP's assertion that the whole community should be fully informed of the proposed project, their views taken into consideration and that WDC should not rush the process. One of the Cabinet members suggested that the benefit to the town of the two clubs was £10M p.a., a number that has substantially increased from the £7M that he previously mentioned at the Full Council meeting. GASP presumes that a detailed investigation will be conducted to ascertain what the real economic benefit is and that it is derived from quantitative, rather than anecdotal, evidence.
There was recognition that the survey and response methodology was potentially flawed and didn't have any safeguards in place. This meant that it was open to abuse and that it was possible for false postcode details and multiple responses to be included in the results that were presented. Around 8,500 submissions was considered a very good response rate, although this unusually high number wasn't questioned by Cabinet members. The absence of any safeguarding of the survey process, and the potential skewing of results, was dismissed by Cllr Green as the same methodology has been used for other surveys and hadn't previously been questioned. Well, it's being questioned now and we ask that that any future surveys are conducted with appropriate safeguarding to avoid the risk of decisions being based on potentially corrupted data.
The Cabinet took on board, and voted to accept, the majority of the IRC's recommendations. It was surprising however that Cabinet chose to not vote to accept the IRC's recommendation 8 (next steps), which included "The need for a clear and irrevocable commitment from Wycombe Wanderers FC and London Wasps be obtained, backed by a legal agreement, to support the Council's intent and to ensure a long-term legacy for the District" stating instead that the recommendation was 'noted'. One of the key drivers behind the project is the Council's desire to deliver a stadium that will retain Wycombe Wanderers and London Wasps and contribute towards their continued viability. GASP urges the Council to ensure that a robust legal agreement with both Clubs is put in place at the earliest opportunity as WDC is spending significant sums already without evidence of any legally binding agreement being put in place.
WDC's Cabinet was keen to emphasise that this phase was simply about the concept and it was being used to identify the many issues surrounding the proposals. GASP agrees that the Council, to use Cllr Green's words, should be "crystal clear" and transparent about the proposal and engage better with the local community to establish what the community actually 'needs' as opposed to 'wants'. In a time of fiscal restraint and cutbacks, the Council needs to ensure that it properly engages with the community and establishes the true needs and weighs these up against the prospect of major Council expenditure and impact to Greenbelt and the Chilterns AONB.Gary Nuttall