Tag Archives: Whitchurch

HENGROVE HOUSING HORROR

Reverend Rees’s housing tsar, Paul “Wolfie” Smith’s promises to “build communities not just houses” on Hengrove Park have collapsed on first contact with the public.

The recent first round of public consultation in Hengrove found Wolfie’s Major Projects Team openly admit they will be providing NO FACILITIES as part of the development because “THEY ARE ALREADY HERE“. So don’t move there expecting anything other than McDonalds, KFC and Premier Inn to service your needs.

The only public investment planners are agreeing to will be a GP surgery – somewhere – which is already urgently required in the Whitchurch/Hengrove area due to CHRONIC over-subscription of the existing GP service – and more primary school places.

 However, there will be NO NEW SCHOOLS. Instead, existing primary schools in the working class area – highly regarded for their leafy and spacious grounds – will be extended and expanded. Conveniently REMOVING playing fields and open space from the schools and leaving more prime development land for corporate developers to transform into high density rabbit hutches (surely exciting sustainable housing in the ‘Bristol Vernacular’ style? Ed.).

The highlight of this major development shambles, mainly designed to place large sums of cash into corporate developers coffers, however, is the plan to SHUT the recently opened Family Cycling Centre on the old Whitchurch Athletics Track and build a main access road over it!

Not only does this plan DEMOLISH one of the few public facilities still allowed in the area, it also demonstrates Bristol City Council’s real level of commitment to so-called “sustainable transport” and “active travel” once the hard cash for corporates is on the table.

 The council’s current Quality of Life Survey lists the number of commuters cycling to work in the area as ZERO PER CENT while 60 per cent use their car. And car use will only increase once Wolfie throws up 2,000 extra homes with car parking spaces. Why would anyone want to promote cycling here?

Residents in and around Bamfield in Whitchurch are especially up in arms since their residential road is set to become the MAIN VEHICLE ACCESS to all this new housing. Thousands of vehicles will be encouraged to drive down Bamfield every day and then drive directly over the ex-running track to access Wolfie’s new “community”. Locals predict traffic chaos and say the level of congestion and pollution likely to be generated by this plan is “HUGE“.

 Meanwhile, the obvious road access to the development, directly off Hengrove Way – a MAIN TRUNK ROAD specifically designed for heavy traffic – will be buses only and blocked to private cars!

 Who thinks this shit up?

HORSEWORLD: FAITH, HOPE IN CHARITY COMMISSION..?

Word reaches us that the ongoing saga of bizarre management decisions at much-loved equine charity HorseWorld continues apace, with sector regulator the CHARITY COMMISSION now in the midst of an investigation.

We understand that a number of people have raised the alarm with the Com- mission over SHENANIGANS at the Whitchurch charity, whose well-paid managing director Mark ‘Not That One’ Owen has sacked dozens of staff and closed down the visitor centre since his pie-in-the-sky redevelopment scheme fell at the first hurdle in November.

However, it seems that our old chum Pinocchiowen may have friends in high places, given TEPID responses from the CC which has been at pains to claim that despite being a regulator it is not able to, err, regulate. Instead it’s telling people to talk to the trustees… The very same people who have consistently backed Owen.

Don’t they want to fix HorseWorld?

HORSEWORLD MANAGEMENT DITCHES VISITOR CENTRE…

Web ExclusiveA sad day for HorseWorld today, with news coming in on what was meant to be the last day of a “consultation” into the options open to the Whitchurch equine charity to secure its financial future: it seems that the VISITOR CENTRE WILL DEFINITELY CLOSE this Friday 28th February.

Sources tell us that embattled managing director Mark ‘Not That One’ Owen “didn’t even have the balls to do the deed himself”, preferring instead to send out a staff representative to spread the bad news to employees.

It is understood that today’s dark announcement confirms the decision to shutter the visitor centre made at a meeting last week of the charity’s trustees “in a SECRET LOCATION”. As one angry source told us:

[The trustees] usually meet at HorseWorld in the visitor centre cafe, but that’s a no-no for them now, of course, lest the staff actually get to meet the trustees who NEVER visit the place and, worse still, have a chance to influence their daft decision making…

As the GMB union’s Rowena Hayward – who has been acting for those facing redundancy – notes, staff “feel very pressurised, very stressed, very anxious…and VERY LET DOWN” about how the situation has been handled.

Meanwhile word reaches us that a wide variety of people connected with HorseWorld’s important animal welfare work – including staff, former volunteers and financial supporters – “have had SEVERE PRESSURE put on them, in various ways, to keep shtum and not whistle-blow these last couple of weeks.”

Taken together with recent efforts to prevent critical media coverage, it gives the impression of a coordinated effort to silence dissent in the lead up to today’s sad news – though ITV West was able to screen a news package on the threat to jobs, with papers including the Bristol Post and The Week In joining The BRISTOLIAN in shining a light on the running of the charity.

With the curious decision to close the visitor centre – and so lose a valuable point of contact with the public, and an important revenue stream – now rubber-stamped and announced, it seems likely that those who until now kept quiet will instead voice their concerns publicly.

One question remains:

Why are those at the sharp end of HorseWorld’s animal welfare work – both human and equine – the ones currently bearing the brunt of bad business decisions, and not those in senior management who actually made them?

PINOCCHIOWEN’S LAST STAND? THE ‘CUNNING NEW PLAN’ OF HORSEWORLD BOSS

HorseWorld boss Mark Owen: full of pony

HorseWorld boss Mark Owen: full of pony

Web ExclusiveTrustees of troubled charity HorseWorld meet tomorrow (Wednesday 18 December) to consider what they do next after the SPECTACULAR FAILURE of MD Mark Owen to persuade local councillors to give him the green light to fill Whitchurch’s green belt with lots of unaffordable posh houses.

Faced with a CRISIS of Becher’s Brook proportions, the trustees have important decisions to make that will decide the futures of many staff and still more animals.

Under Owen’s watch in the last five years HorseWorld has shipped millions of pounds – but frittered away hundreds of thousands on consultants working on his ill-judged master plan. This came crashing to the ground at the first fence last month when BANES councillors showed that they could think for themselves and act in the best interests of local people who didn’t want posh houses and a big arena, thank you very much, by voting against Owen’s plans.

And when they voted against his harebrained scheme to knock down the visitor’s centre and sell off prime land to profiteering property developers, they didn’t do it by half-measures.

Comments from councillors considering the application included:

…10% affordable housing was not good enough…

…information about visitor figures was not clear…

…not convinced the proposal would solve HorseWorld’s problems…

…10% affordable housing was not enough, it should be 35%…

…not convinced there were very special circumstances outweighing the need to protect the Green Belt…

…information about transport issues was incomplete…

…worried about transport issues…

…HorseWorld, with 100,000 visitors a year, should already be successful…

…not convinced about the commercial viability of HorseWorld…

…concerned about the impact of a new housing development on the local primary school…

So that would be a resounding ‘no’, it would seem.

Since then Owen has FURIOUSLY STOMPED around the local press fuming that his failure to get the nod for the plan means the charity will close. ‘It’s unsustainable,’ he whines. Well, insiders retort, it’s certainly unsustainable to retain this INCOMPETENT TWAT on £80,000 per year (plus 28k company car).

Owen’s HorseWorld business model has long been seen to be redundant, and now he should be too.

So is this the moment when trustees finally ditch the hapless Owen so he can spend more time playing guitar in his pub covers band?

At the meeting Owen is expected to plead with his trustee bosses for CLEMENCY. His latest ruse will be to tell them they can overturn the BANES decision on appeal, and he has already started a petition. A bit late in the day for petitions, but you can expect some (non-local) people – including staff – to sign it. ‘Think of my mortgage… err, I mean, the horses!’

Alongside this petition strategy is the key part of his new vision – the immediate closure of the existing visitor centre, home to 24 horses, donkeys and ponies, and employer of several low-paid staff. Retain the rest of the charity land as a small scale sanctuary for animals, he’ll urge, but scale down the operation. ‘Oh, and keep me as MD, pretty please!’

There is of course another option for trustees. It’s not one which Owen will recommend to them, but maybe like the BANES councillors did, THEY’LL PROVE THEY HAVE MINDS OF THEIR OWN…

  1. Flog the Audi;
  2. Sack this expensive failure and his overpaid management cronies; and
  3. Move to a different model that puts long-suffering animals and hard working charity staff first.

It’s an option that would allow HorseWorld to continue working, but in creative co-operation with the local community, not against it.

Nobody in their right mind would believe councillors who overwhelmingly rejected an application by 10 to 2 votes would just overturn the decision on appeal. But are HorseWorld trustees in their right mind?

The acid test will come at this week’s meeting…

PS: For over a year Owen has been telling anyone who’ll listen that if HorseWorld failed to get planning permission he would RESIGN. He hasn’t.

What Mark Owen tells the Charity Commission - not quite what he tells BANES...

What Mark Owen tells the Charity Commission – not quite what he tells BANES…

I say 62, you say 43, let's call the whole thing off!

I say 62, you say 43, let’s call the whole thing off!

But then he’s been telling everyone he employees over sixty staff (most notably going with the figure 62, as shown on the HorseWorld website here and here, and in submissions to BANES Council – see page 92), when official figures submitted the Charity Commission claim the true figure is 43.

Pinocchiowen indeed.

HORSEWORLD PLANNING APPLICATION, TAKE TWO: A BIT OF A PANTOMIME? (OH NO IT’S NOT!) OH YES IT IS…

Web Exclusive…And so we return to the ongoing saga of attempts by INCOMPETENT CHARITY BOSSES at HorseWorld in Whitchurch to persuade Bath & North East Somerset Council to let them knock down their visitor centre, sell the land to property developers, and then build a new visitor centre.

Apparently that will suddenly make them all financial geniuses and not the same dunderheads who created a massive black hole out of the generous donations and bequests from animal lovers keen to see abused donkeys, horses and other equine beasts rehomed.

Last month you may recall that all three planning applications were withdrawn at the eleventh hour – could The BRISTOLIAN‘s detailed reporting on how HorseWorld bosses made staff write letters of support to the council have had anything to do with the committee members’ irritation?

Well, this afternoon (Wednesday 20 November) is crunch time: all three apps are back in the room. Indications are that the BANES committee might be minded to slip it through – especially if they read the awesome puff piece in the Bristol Post earlier this month by its Business Editor Michael Ribbeck, which all but suggested the fall of western civilisation if this new development doesn’t go ahead.

Most amusingly of all was the elaborate plucking of ‘facts’ out of thin air, conjuring with made-up statistics, and general air of the reporter having HUFFED TOO MUCH GLUE whilst glumly waiting for the next round of redundancies.

A little taste:

The planning application also includes plans for 90 homes which would be built on green belt land if the application is approved by Bath and North East Somerset Council.

Err, no, Michael – the application is for “up to 118 dwellings”. Despite the norm for an affordable element of 35%, HorseWorld is trying to get away with an allocation of just 10% at the site. That means potentially more than 100 RICH MEN’S HOMES plonked in the middle of Whitchurch instead of meeting local young people’s need for housing they can actually afford.

And the extra kick in the balls? HorseWorld wants to have subsidised on-site staff accommodation counting towards that meagre 10%!

Let’s keep going…

There have been eight objections to the scheme on the grounds of the traffic it will create and the loss of green belt land. However, the council has received almost double the number of letters in support of the redevelopment.

As we pointed out in great detail, there have been 615 letters or emails objecting to the proposals, with 108 (from 72 individuals or businesses) in support. The majority of supporters had non-local addresses. One-third of the supporters were directly linked to the charity (though most failed to declare so).

HorseWorld saw visitor numbers hit the 100,000 mark in 2011…the eventual aim is to increase numbers by around 35,000 a year.

As Highways Development Control has noted, “the anticipated increase in annual visitor numbers…from 100,000 to 134,000 per annum, ‘based on research’, no information has been submitted in order that those assumptions can be checked/verified.”

In other words, the Bristol Post-annointed ‘Communicator of the Year’ HorseWorld loves to spin a good yarn, to tell a tall tale – but can’t really back up any of its claims. And as for Ribbeck and the Post, well, who needs facts when you’ve a full tin of Evo-Stik Impact and a carrier bag on your desk.

Anyway, if anyone is in Barf tomorrow and at a loose end, do pop in to the Brunswick Room at the Guildhall for the Development Control Committee meeting; kick-off is at 2pm.

Though this might not be the end of the matter – even if BANES passes it through though, it looks likely to face objections from Bristol City Council…

HORSEWORLD PLANNING APPS WITHDRAWN AT 11TH HOUR!

Web ExclusiveFollowing a tip-off last night The BRISTOLIAN can report that the ‘interestingly’ managed charity HorseWorld will not be seeing its planning applications for a massive housing development and new visitor centre go before the BANES Development Control Committee today – thanks to the sensational LAST MINUTE DUMPING of the matter from the agenda.

Bath & North East Somerset Council’s DCC is still meeting this afternoon… Only without any discussion of the controversial concrete-in-the-greenbelt scheme that HorseWorld boss Mark ‘Am I In This Month’s BRISTOLIAN Again?’ Owen seems to think is the only way to reverse the financial rot that set in during his five year tenure as Managing Director.

A council source told The BRISTOLIAN:

The applications have been withdrawn – this was done by officers not the applicant. There is further information to be obtained, and issues to be clarified…

Just what could that “further information” be? What “issues” need to be “clarified”? Could it be that the recent revelations in your lovable ‘Smiter’ have been read down yonder..?

It’s expected that Owen’s DOOMED PLANS will be resubmitted to next month’s DCC meeting on 20 November.

In the meantime, questions continue to be asked about a number of aspects to Owen’s development proposals, not least the ‘SECTION 106 CONTRIBUTIONS’.

‘Section 106’ obligations are legally enforceable requirements on a piece of land that a local authority negotiates with an owner. When major development like what’s planned for the HorseWorld land is in the pipeline, it’s meant to ensure that the developer bears some of the financial strain on local services, such as education, roads and health facilities.

And as you can imagine, 125 new houses in a village of barely more than 1,300 people can definitely be seen as major.

So given the FINANCIAL STRAITS that HorseWorld is in, offering £1,008,254.52 in s106 money (‘HorseWorld Trust Financial Viability Statement’) seems pretty impressive (though as some have noted, s106 negotiations are often skewed in favour of the developer).

Certainly, as some of the submissions in support of HorseWorld’s plans suggest, more housing for local people – something of a hot local potato at the moment – would be a great idea.

As HorseWorld marketing assistant Amy Williams noted (whilst simultaneously forgetting to mention who she’s employed by):

Housing is very much needed in the area and will allow the existing listed buildings to be converted and preserved. The site for the housing fits inperfectly with the existing built up area surrounding it. Well done HorseWorld for a well thought out plan!

Well done indeed! And well done Amy for describing so well the need for affordable housing for Whitchurch locals whilst she herself lives in a £200,000+ house in, err, Staple Hill!

Amy’s boss, Communications Manager Samantha Greatbanks – an actual Whitchurch resident – echoes the sentiment:

I feel that for my generation these houses will provide a new place to live that is close to home.

Admirable sentiments from someone living in a half-a-million quid property!

Still, it will be great that with 125 new homes in Whitchurch young locals not born with a silver spoon in their mouth will be able to find homes in their own village and not be forced out by stupidly high house prices, isn’t it?

Erm… Well it seems that HorseWorld isn’t that keen on the idea. Its million pound s106 offer is only on the table if it’s allowed to provide just 10% affordable housing on the site – a mere dozen homes for ordinary Whitchurch people.

That’s contrasted with the not-much-less-meagre demand – carried unanimously – of the BANES Development Control Committee for 35%.

And when you consider that around 110 new dwellings would attract roughly 300 new residents with well over a hundred extra motor vehicles between them, and increase demand for school places by at least a hundred, just how far will that £1,008,254.52 stretch?

Does Mark Owen and the charity bosses who approved his perks and company car and salary hikes – whilst the horse-loving staff at the sharp end survive on little more than minimum wage – really think the people of Whitchurch are so witless?