Playing Devil’s Advocate* (In the Coyte Farm debate)

EPSON scanner imageI am (very much) pro St. Austell.

I’m actually pro keeping green fields and farmland rather than covering them in swathes of little-box housing estates.

I’m also pro, despite the wind tunnel effect its lack of covered space, of White River Place.

St. Austell has been built on a hillside, with the main street wrapping around one of its contours. The topography, that gives St. Austell Town Centre’s  its unrestricted views over countryside, also inhibits the town centre’s size.

White River’s construction, cleverly raising the new shopping level to the same level as the old town centre and concealing multi story parking within it  is, quite simply, genius. At the same time it enabled an expansion of the retail space of the town.

I’m also anti lots of things too, and capable of my own wild ideas for change. Some can make me quite emotional.

Brown field sites being left derelict rather than re-developed for housing or something other seems criminal.  The negligent waste of old, important historic buildings that should be restored and reused… being left untouched or worse still, pulled down, feels utterly insane.

The grip of multi-nationals, greed of bankers, landlords, developers, over dominance of supermarkets can all have me shaking my fist in my sleep.

But, I also take issue with one-sided lobbyists and withholders of information who reveal only a partial picture that suits them. Or passionate extremists who demonize anyone who doesn’t fully support their argument. I particularly dislike being patronised, or told what I should think, as if I don’t have  a mind capable of weighing up all the issues on my own.

These are the questions that I want answers to:

  • How will the environmental impact, with increased risk of flooding, from concrete, tarmac and loss of farmland be offset?
  • What are the plans to manage increased traffic flows near schools and pedestrian areas near any new development?
  • How were the impact assessment scores calculated to estimate how much established businesses might be damaged? If there is the possibility for so much margin, explain why one calculation method is likely to be more accurate than another.
  • Is the suggestion of long-term, sustainable jobs real or imagined? Please give me positive examples as well as negative ones.
  • Will it, or will it not, bring more money into the local economy of St.Austell and how?
  • What’s the amount of local spend is currently going to Truro, Plymouth and online shopping and how much could St. Austell (with or without Coyte) be able to claw back?

But every answer has to be questioned and examined too. How reliable is the source? When was it published? Is it likely to show bias? How relevant is the evidence to the context and so on…critical-thinking-cartoon

Tell me to ‘Stop’ I’m going to ask ‘Why? What’s in it for whom?’ My critical head starts to play devil’s advocate. I want all the answers, and every answer raises more questions.

And it’s my business to know the importance of choosing emotive words carefully. Any copy writer worth their salt knows that selecting the right word to convey a message is really, really important. Get it wrong and the intention can just backfire creating more dissent than unification.

Isn’t it preferrable to tell people what they can do to make things better, and make them feel good about themselves. For example,  the ‘Choose Cornish’ campaign: If everyone who lives in the county spent just 50p a week on local produce from a local supplier, it would deliver over £10 million into Cornwall’s economy in a year. The message is simple, achievable, embraceable, but most important, you won’t be demonized when you buy something that isn’t Cornish. And actually, supermarkets have to adapt to people’s ethical buying habits and consciences.

The scale of the Coyte Farm development is said to have “Transformational Change” potential for St. Austell and the surrounding area. It has the potential to be the town’s best ever ‘Opportunity’ or  worst possible ‘Threat’. That’s why I raised the question; “Can we afford to reject Coyte without fully exploring every detail that surrounds it?” I need to add, “Is this the type of Transformational Change that we can negotiate to make our lives better?”

WHAT IS TRANSFORMATIONAL CHANGE? (see video below)

My last point is that I am always happy to have my mind changed. Not as a woman’s prerogative but because I wish always to be able to remain open-minded. I may have written a pro Coyte piece but I’d still be ‘jury’s out’ on the decision if I happened to have the power to vote on the matter.

I’ll support Coyte as a Sainsbury’s and as an out-of -town retail area if the retail area does not compete for the same shops as in the Town Centre as I believe that Coyte, could change the way that people regard St. Austell and improve the economy of the St. Austell area.

But unlike Bert Biscoe, I’ve understood that Coyte would be a site for big retailers such as M&S, or hopefully big retail giants, the likes of  Ikea, that can’t be accommodated in town, but would bring shoppers back to the area. I’ve never thought it would replace the town centre.

However if Coyte is built merely to entice what little we have in our current high street away – then I was wrong – and I’ll take great issue with that.

I’ll give my support if drainage can be managed to pose no risk of flooding the Pentewan Valley; if the retail area can be largely hidden by trees and landscaping; if access to St. Mewan Primary School is made safer; and if offset money is used towards projects such as turning brownfield sites into productive market gardens, or the Market House into something amazing…. (Wild ideas in the offing for which I’d expect someone to play devil’s advocate with me).

However, I’m not yet convinced by the need for all the housing on green fields in Phase 2 of Coyte. For that reason the Trewhiddle Farm plans, a supermarket with houses in pre-application planning and directly adjacent to Coyte, wouldn’t get my support either…. and interestingly this developer spoke against the Coyte development (Well he would, wouldn’t he?)

devil’s advocate is someone who takes a position he or she does not necessarily agree with, for the sake of debate. In taking this position, the individual taking on the devil’s advocate role seeks to engage others in an argumentative discussion process. The purpose of such process is typically to test the quality of the original argument and identify weaknesses in its structure, and to use such information to either improve or abandon the original, opposing position.

It can also refer to someone who takes a stance that is seen as unpopular or unconventional, but is actually another way of arguing a much more conventional stance.

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5 thoughts on “Playing Devil’s Advocate* (In the Coyte Farm debate)

  1. Pingback: Love St. Austell? Love Coyte Farm. « FishWifey

  2. love your recent article, it really highlights the need to consider all factors rather than just blindly agreeing with what one is told. i do hope it makes people really think about the reality of what can be offered.

  3. Jess,

    Your blog raises many interesting points, but I’ll restrict myself to “briefish” answers to your questions in the first instance:

    • Environment; it’s scary how wrong the developers have got this based on the Environment Agency’s very negative feedback on the planning file. I am sure they will subsequently try to address this, but it shows where their initial priorities lie; they are not as green as their logo.

    • Pedestrians; doesn’t everyone drive everywhere?! I find it laughable that the OOT developer’s lobby group is called “Accessible” Retail; this is shopping by car, for only people with cars. People will have to drive their kids to school, just to be safe, as unfortunately most people now do in elsewhere.

    • Damage to existing businesses; what’s more credible? A report by international consultancy Deloittes that suggests the common sense position that building more than an entire town’s worth of retail space will damage that town by 23%, or a report that “magically” comes in at just less than the policy threshold of 8%, prepared by the developers?

    • Jobs; 8 huge shops have eight managers, 20 normal shops have 20 managers, what’s more sustainable? What provides more opportunity to local people? How many of these new, largely part time jobs will be on minimum wage and therefore relying on Income Support to subsidise large retailer profits?

    More full time jobs will be lost in total according to Deloittes (OK I paid them a load of money, but I can assure you I couldn’t afford to buy their reputation even if it was for sale!)

    • Money; as you identify, of every £1 spent locally around 50-70p recirculates into the local economy, only 5p spent OOT does. The more successful Coyte Farm, the more it will be at the expense of local businesses and the community. The total spending power in St Austell is, unfortunately, finite.

    Cornwall CC was initially massively in favour of Coyte Farm, but has commissioned their own independent report into the impact of the three retail planning applications, this should be published soon.

    Let’s see what that has to say?

    Cheers

    Mark (One of the new owners of WRP)

  4. Pingback: #CoyteFarm, #LoveSt.Austell. | FishWifey

  5. Jessica,

    Please excuse me for hijacking your blog, but I really feel the need to address some of Mark Robinson’s points from his reply to you:

    Point 2: What proportion of WRP’s customers walk into town, I wonder? Probably a very small one – you will know better than me, because you have footfall figures and car parking figures, but I would guess that the vast majority either drive in or come in by bus. Therefore, I fail to see why Coyte Farm would be any different to WRP. There will, after all, be a free shuttle bus running between the two locations, so this could potentially mean less traffic congestion from the west, with people parking at Coyte and wanting to visit the town centre.

    Point 3: ‘What’s more credible…….damage of 23% or 8% to the town centre’? Personally, I estimate a figure far closer to 8% than 23%. Why? Because people come into town now for more than just ‘shopping’. Fore Street is made up of various outlets, the vast majority of which would not be represented in any OOT centre – banks, betting shops, travel agents, jewellers, bakers, solicitors, phone shops, charity shops, stationers. Only Dorothy Perkins / Burton and Clarks shoes face any direct product-range competition. WRP would fare much the same, with only TK Maxx, New Look and Claire’s Accessories facing direct competition from Coyte Farm, with the remainder – the cinema, food outlets, Argos, Halifax, O2, 99p Stores, Wilkinson etc – having a niche market that will continue long after any OOT site opens. Apart from WRP and Fore Street, the town centre contains many other outlets that would not be represented OOT – more banks, the Post Office, accountants, dentists, computer repairs, butchers, pubs etc. Why would the fact that people come into the town centre now to patronise these businesses (with a massive Asda and a Tesco, both way beyond walking distance) change dramatically with the existence of an OOT? I suspect that Barton Wilmore’s estimate of 8% is no more ‘magical’ than Deloitte’s estimate of 23% – they are both, after all, estimates. The report surveyors for Cornwall Council admitted under questioning at the Strategic Planning Committee meeting in January that they never actually went back to a town they had surveyed to see if their predictions had come true, so how can we have any faith that either figure has any credibility at all? Do as I have done – walk around town and assess each business individually and ask yourself if you really think that most of them could possibly stand to lose 23% of their business to OOT. With the state of the town centre as it is at the moment and the rate at which shops are currently closing down, I would estimate that the town centre stands to lose more than 23% if Coyte Farm is not built.

    Point 4: Jobs. You correctly state that 8 stores have 8 managers and 20 shops have 20 managers. What you have failed to address is that the 20 shops will probably not have any management structure in them, so there will be 20 managers and perhaps an average of about 5 staff each. 8 stores, however, will have 8 managers, at least 24 deputy managers plus department managers, office managers and other positions of responsibility to which it is possible that the ‘ordinary’ staff might feel they have some chance of aspiring if they work hard enough. Do you really think that the average shop worker in St. Austell now is on anything other than minimum wage, with little or no hope of promotion or a company training scheme? My answer to the number of FTE jobs lost according to Deloitte’s can be found in the previous paragraph.

    Point 5: Money. Please tell me how £1 spent in TK Maxx, for example, results in 50-70p recirculating in the local economy, whilst a pound spend at Marks and Spencer at Coyte Farm would result in only 5p remaining. This is a genuine question to which you may well have an answer that you can substantiate, but I cannot see the difference in a national company’s benefit to the town in which it trades being any different, whether it is in the town centre or OOT. Both locations require staff to be paid, plus all overheads – rent, utilities, service charges etc – before the net profit is transferred away from the town to wherever the head office is based. Even the profit from rent and service charges paid by WRP tenants goes away from the town. How many shops and stores in WRP are working on a semi-net margin of 50-70% for this figure to be able to recirculate? I suspect I know the answer to that before I even ask it, but I will be very interested to hear your figure. Finally, you state that there are three planning applications pending. Coyte Farm is one, Penwinnick road another, but I am unaware of a third pending at this time.

    Realistically, the major loser to any OOT developent in St. Austell would be Ellandi, because you stand to lose out substantially with the potential loss of car park revenue. Your current car parking charges, whilst lower than they used to be, still do not encourage shoppers into the town centre. Why not take a leaf out of the County Council’s book and instigate a 30 minute free parking period? This means that people like me who need to pop into town for one or two items will be more likely to choose WRP than Asda or Tesco. Probably a fair proportion of those people would end up staying more than half an hour, so both you and your tenants stand to gain far more than you would lose.

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