Erase the Negative. Embrace the Positive.

Poor old St. Austell, beleaguered, battle worn and blighted in particular over this last year, by division and negativity.  The refusal of an out-of-town retail development for St. Austell at Coyte Farm didn’t bring jubilation in the street, despite the ‘Stop Coyte’ spurious claims that 83% of the people were against it. In fact, judging by the sheer volume of letters, almost unanimous in the voice of disappointment, printed in the Cornish Guardian in the weeks following the planning refusal, the opposite was true.

The trouble is that every attempt to give a ‘positive’ message either limps with phrases like, ‘St. Actually-quite-nice’; is lacklustre with ‘show some nice, not depressing, pictures’; or it backfires completely as the ‘Stop Coyte Farm’ campaign certainly did.

A recent poll on the ‘Silent Majority of St. Austell speak up’ Facebook page asked the question directly: “For a year the ‘Love St. Austell, Stop Coyte Farm’ posters were on display around St. Austell town centre. What effect did this campaign message have on your attitude towards the town centre?” 217 people answered the poll. A mere 5.1% said: “It made me feel more loyal to St. Austell. The message was positive and I felt more inclined to support my local traders”.Untitled

The campaign certainly made people much more aware of Coyte Farm, but not actually in the negative way the campaign intended. St. Austell people love and are fiercely loyal to their hometown and their memories are long. The majority consensus changed as they felt the addition of M&S to the retail portfolio of St. Austell would be a genuine opportunity for the area to claw itself out of the doldrums. It also insulted them because the campaign message implied that you couldn’t LOVE St. Austell if you wanted Coyte too.

Now, this is where things start to get serious. The campaign failed absolutely to have an impact on local people’s current shopping habits and neither did it make a significant number more inclined to support their local traders. In fact, 48.8%  said that the negative message in the word ‘Stop’ made them more inclined to shop elsewhere. If a retail survey were to show that trade in the town worsened in the last 12 months, then the energy that went into stopping Coyte Farm, rather than marketing the town itself in a wholly positive way, may well have been a contributing factor.

But the point is, people who have made a deliberate and conscious choice to live in or near St. Austell, buy houses and put down roots, haven’t done so because they hate the place. Ask anyone in the street, they’ll all say how much they want the town to improve and prosper even if each personal vision might differ.

Sadly, nothing will change and negatively will continue while one side remains mistrustful of the other.  As the article regarding the resigning of the Chairman of St. Austell Bay Chamber, last week in the paper, illustrated.

It stated, that a longstanding member of the Chamber said that 145 members voted against the Coyte Farm scheme. This cannot be true as the Chamber’s membership only recently topped 70 businesses.  The report also said the Chamber had received seven applications for membership from prominent supporters of the Coyte Farm scheme. It seems an odd thing to make mention of, it also makes a prejudicial assumption, as the particular member went on to say: “If they are genuine applications from businesses in the area that’s absolutely fine.” Meanwhile, the Chamber currently has four members whose addresses are from outside the St. Austell Bay area. So what is the point he is trying to make?  Could it be that different opinions, that might shake the status quo to oppose certain schemes and support others only, are really not acceptable?

So, while we wait for new Coyte plans to be submitted and with much cynicism placed on the genuine credibility of the ‘Animal Farm’ sounding ‘Together St. Austell’ where certain developers (because they are more local) ‘are more equal than others’ and who claim to have the backing of St. Austell Bids and the Chamber of Commerce when officially they haven’t been given that mandate… a split town is the present legacy of Coyte.

Let’s hope its not to be the enduring one, because, like an incitement for civil war, the Stop Coyte lobby have made it clear: “If you don’t entirely agree with us, you must be in the other camp by default.”

The reality is that most people, residents and business people, are much more open-minded, or have yet to be decided, and would rather be able to ask frank questions, get straight answers and consider the positive merits of each and every scheme, plan and vision and not just a chosen few. The biggest single act that will change the mood is a smile with a handshake; the most positive phrase St. Austell should adopt more frequently is simply, ‘Yes’.

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.