Some interesting developments today in the HorseWorld ‘let us knock down our visitor centre so we can sell the land to a property developer who will build a bunch of executive homes and then build a visitor centre’ story… Against all expectations, Bath & North East Somerset Council TURNED DOWN the charity’s planning application by ten councillors to two in a shock decision that left incompetent boss Mark ‘Not That One’ Owen with a very long face indeed.
Here’s our local reporter with analysis:
The word on the street here is that when HorseWorld first started its plan a couple of years ago to do this development, the Managing Director Mark Owen looked at the balance sheets that were showing the massive losses under his leadership and then calculated how to achieve a break-even or profit figure, maintaining the same levels of spending in all areas but increasing income from the tourism side of things. He apparently discovered that if his visitor centre could get 135,000 people per year then it would have higher income from admission fees, merchandise etc, and so would break even.
So the theory is he then began putting together a case which started from this 135,000 figure and worked backwards, to try to show that a new visitor centre would get those numbers through the doors, instead of proving the attraction of the new centre would lead to those numbers. Most companies would tend to do their business plans the other way round of course!
This botched way of doing things might persuade trustees who have a vested interest, innumerate finance directors, and planning officers whose hands were apparently forced by the Liberal Democrat councillors who run the BANES council cabinet and have visited HorseWorld; but it was unlikely to persuade the councillors who had to justify a decision. And it grossly underestimated the intelligence of Stockwood and Whitchurch people!
This back to front approach also showed with the way HorseWorld panicked when they had to pay £1 million Section 106 money and so tried to balance the books by reducing the affordable housing allocation.
Key to the rejection of the vague plans put forward by HorseWorld were the low numbers of affordable homes that would be built, the sketchy reasoning behind the 35% overnight jump in visitors anticipated, failure to adequately argue why there was an exceptional reason to build on green belt land, and the increased traffic. Owen was left spluttering that HorseWorld would now have to close down. (Well, only if he continues to manage it the way he has up till now.)
And finally, there were behind the scenes all sorts of shady deals going on – in Bristol as well as in Bath – to try and push the application through: more on this in the next edition of The BRISTOLIAN paper – on the streets from the end of next week. In the meantime, check out Stockwood Pete’s blog about today’s decision.