‘Bournemouth In The Media’ columns 2000-2001
Below are the monthly columns I wrote for the now-defunct BNCE website. See intro page for background
AUTUMN in Bournemouth is of course the national Party Conference Season, this year being the turn of the Conservatives, followed by the Lib-Dems as a bonus. The press reported security was being tightened in the aftermath of the September 20th IRA rocket attack on MI6’s “007” HQ, with Police armed gendarme-style with sub-machineguns at checkpoints extending a mile around the so-called Exclusion Zone. On the first day, police exploded a device found under the Pier, but it proved just a naval marker buoy. There was a more genuine bomb scare, involving incendiary letter-bombs. Several were delivered or intercepted, plus threatening letters to send more of the same. But security forces soon realised that these bombs were not politically motivated, and there was no VIP threat – it was purely an unsolved local crime. The letter-bombs were aimed at ordinary local people, part of a blackmail attempt against Tesco’s by targeting customers. The security cordon ensured there were few of the usual demos or protests. At a taping of Radio 4’s The News Quiz, held inside the security cordon at the Winter Gardens, a number of people did walk out in protest after a series of anti-Conservative jokes, mostly about anti-cannabis campaigner Ann Widdecombe.
The Thick Blue Line
To some, downtown Bournemouth seems never so safe as when these Conferences are on as there are hundreds of police on duty in the town’s Central Division, instead of the usual dozen. For a week, the streets were also even relatively safe for cyclists, although this was due not to any police presence, but to the fuel-tax protests forcing people to leave cars at home. While the Borough, despite the extra policing costs, welcomes all these Conferences because the town does so well out of them (one recent official estimate is £75 million per year), there was a complaint the town’s clubs and streets were otherwise deader than ever before. Any hope that the 2nd series of ITV’s summer Friday-night docu-soap Dream Town, which focused on an “adult” club, would be good for club-oriented tourism proved misplaced.
The complaint reported in the Echo (“Blast For A Town Going Nowhere,” 21 Oct) about poor club business was from clubs owner Richard Carr, who grew up in the town’s oldest building, the Exeter Hotel, built up the entertainment conglomerate Allied Leisure, became a power-boat racing champion, proposed such expansionary initiatives as building a marina off Boscombe Pier, and wound up, at 40, as Dream Town’s oldest co-star. Carr blamed Council procrastination for the decline he sees in nightclub business (rather than the damp summer). The docu-soap itself had received only bad publicity, in the form of criticism from Councillors and residents for its relentless focus on a “lap” dancing (actually table-dancing) club run by a pair of Americans. The dismay expressed in the local press over the first series seems to have been replaced by anger over the second. It seems to have stiffened resolve against the idea of the town’s becoming England’s “club capital.”
World Class Resort
Nevertheless, the Borough Council has since announced a plan to establish a ’World Class Resort’ here. This seems to focus on the idea of more casinos (Echo 21 Oct), with The Pavilion turned into a “Monte Carlo Style” super-casino (Echo 22 Sep). The fate of the adjacent Winter Gardens venue, for which Carr has put in a bid, remains as ever in doubt. The casinos plan is said to rest on the hope the Government will relax English gaming laws. Critics argue Council plans seem to be not so much for an exclusive Monte Carlo resort as a seafront Las Vegas.
World Class Prices
What is certainly already world-class about the conurbation are house prices. Compared in a survey to New York’s, these got the area coverage in the national broadsheets. “Dorset Sands Outprice Manhattan” was The Times’s story headline (7 Oct); the Sunday Times’s feature headline was “Rising Tide Of Money On The Coast” (15 Oct), while the Telegraph’s (7 Oct) was “Forget Fifth Avenue, The Fourth Costliest Place To Own A Home Is In Poole.” Only New York and other capital cities can now match Sandbanks prices. (The top four in order were: Tokyo, Hong Kong, London, Sandbanks.) The price of local beach-huts has already made most of the national newspapers during the past year, especially those down at Mudeford, with top asking prices reaching around £50,000, and they now have their own website -- www.mudeford-beach-huts.co.uk.
Decline Of The Traditional Seaside Resort
The theme of the English seaside resort in decline had reappeared in the national newspapers at the start of October with the coincidence of (1) the impending closure of the company which produces those “cheeky” seaside postcards whose humour has for so long mystified foreign visitors (2) the sale of Butlin’s holiday camps and (3) the death of longtime rival Fred Ponting, the closure of whose local holiday camp has dented Christchurch high-street tourism trade.
Buildings Going Down By The Book
Stories implying the town is being allowed to go into decline have continued to appear in the local press concerning public buildings. In Boscombe, planners had earlier voted to reject, as “hideous” and “unimaginative,” the new design for flats planned as part for the Boscombe seafront regeneration. Boscombe’s Victorian Pier, which has appeared in several TV sitcoms, and which featured in the town’s final fireworks display, remains partly closed off. The Echo also reported that local Councillors have now accused Council staff of letting the Boscombe Centre For The Community Arts be deliberately left to “run down,” despite the fact bookings are up for LEA classes. Local suspicions have perhaps been fuelled by the recent failure of a campaign to save from conversion into flats the Ashley Road bookshop, also known as “Church Books” as it was perhaps England’s only bookshop in a converted church. The story also emerged that necessary repairs agreed with English Heritage to one of the town’s oldest buildings, Boscombe Manor, alias Shelley Park House, built by the poet’s family for Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, are stalled. The reason is a who-pays dispute between the Art Institute, who were using it for art classes, and the Council, who want the University Of The Third Age to use it.
Five Stars, Four Stars, Three Stars
Even the town’s flagship hotel, the Royal Bath, which originally opened the day of Queen Victoria’s Coronation, hosted VIPs from Disraeli and Gladstone to Oscar Wilde, and still hosts VIP politicos during Party Conferences (guest lists a secret), lost its prized 5-star rating from AA in their new guide. And a prestigious Sandbanks location could not save one of Poole’s oldest hotels, the 3-star Harbour Heights, which in its flying-boat heyday had seen many a VIP guest, including movie stars. The Hotel had asked permission, due to decline in revenues, for a change of use– conversion to flats—and being refused, announced in late October that it would probably close before Xmas.
No Show Again
The IMAX cinema’s continuing failure to open its doors continues to be the most popular press story of a non-event, with popular annoyance over its pierhead location obscuring the view matched by Council annoyance over lost revenues – or, reading between the lines of published comments, perhaps a feeling, as happened with Dream Town, that somehow they have been outmanoeuvred.
The Bottom Line
Table-dancing of the type ITV’s Dream Town focused on has been common in North America since the 1970s, where it is performed openly in bars, it being an English tradition to market such innovations as a private club charging admission on top of drinks profits (which is where the American bars make their money). The nude-dancer clubs such as FYEO (For Your Eyes Only), and Jezebelle’s (of Dream Town “fame”), the latest development in the town’s conversion into an open-all-hours club’n-pub Las Vegas style cash-cow, have attracted keen press interest. Above the Echo’s “’World Class Resort’ Plan” story (12 Oct) was a story, with colour photo, about a complaint upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority over a billboard poster put up on bus shelters by FYEO. Police also wanted it removed lest it distract drivers -- it shows a model with bare bum. The billboard is certainly a quintessential Las Vegas feature, and in the Echo Letters page, apropos a related anti-billboard campaign, a reader quoted Ogden Nash’s poetic spoof “I think I shall never see / A billboard lovely as a tree”. But of course it is merely the successor to the traditional seaside postcard aimed at a more inhibited generation, with its double-entendre captions such as “pretty cheeky,” the Echo headline bridging the gap with its pun on this as “the bottom line.”
Year -- May
You Live In
First of all, one could say that the year did begin with a bang -- belatedly. The New Year’s Eve fireworks display, funded by central government and billed as the town’s “biggest ever,” but postponed due to the late December storms, was rescheduled to coincide with – approximately -- Chinese New Year … and unfortunately also with the late January storms. It (or perhaps a scaled-down version of it) was finally put on to another modest crowd of onlookers, although the storm had knocked most of its entertainment competition – BBC and ITV -- off the air.
There is a double-edged Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times.” This being the first column of 2001, instead of just looking at January events, it might be to worthwhile to try to guess what will be in the local news in the interesting times of the coming (election?) year. Predicting the future is always difficult, and so it is an exercise that tends to be treated by mainstream press columnists only in jokey terms. However at the risk of being wrong, here are ten predicted topics likely to run in the headlines during 2001.
A regularly recurring news motif will be violent public-order offences, especially those related to alcohol and drug use. Major crime incidents and raids on crack dens by armed police squads presently continue to make the front page. However as such events become more of a regular occurrence, crime stories are no longer guaranteed a place on the front pages. It was recently reported that a man was convicted after a celebrity actor appearing at The Pavilion got head-butted in Casa, the bar above Borders; but residents know of similar violent assaults on locals which go both unprosecuted and unreported, as too common to be newsworthy. This topic is related, in the public mind at least, to the slow move towards an “open all hours” basis for clubs and pubs. (As a mark of the town’s status as “Club Capital Of The South,” the club scene now even has its own C Of E chaplain.) The town’s current, already more liberal opening hours were of course what got the town its Millennium fireworks funding. The underlying fear of crime getting out of hand has also of course been a principal motive behind the demand for urban regeneration of inner-city areas like Boscombe, so urban-redevelopment stories normally relegated to routine Council-report coverage may get more of a news splash.
2. IMAX II – The Saga Continues
The story which has more than any other dominated the Daily Echo’s front page is of course the IMAX saga. This seemed to come to a sudden end in January when the Sheridan Group’s lease was foreclosed by freeholder NILGOS for non-completion. However negotiations are underway with a prospective replacement operator, who will need to come up with the necessary £3 million to pay for the 10-year lease of a projector and screen. Council staff have since complained about the “IMAX Factor” increasing job stress, as it has undermined public confidence in the planning process. The Sheridan-IMAX go-ahead was indeed a full-Council (and cross-Party) decision, but local Council planning departments have still been criticized in official reports for taking such a long time to make bad decisions. The IMAX has in effect become a high-profile symbol of erratic and inadequate planning, and the IMAX story will thus continue to run even after the cinema finally opens.
3. Dream Town, Never-Never Land
One of the features of life in Bournemouth throughout the 1990s at least has been the annual announcement, complete with architects’ sketches reproduced on the front pages, of some major new town-centre or seafront urban development – which never comes to fruition. Usually it falls victim to wrangling between the Council and the planners. This led to a letters-page comment amidst the fuss over the Dream Town TV series that the real “Dream Town” was the Bournemouth of these unfulfilled plans. Indeed, it may have been pressure, after many such abortive projects, to see something finally happen with seafront development that led to the IMAX project being allowed through despite officers’ concerns. There was earlier similar opposition to the 1980s big steamroller development project, the BIC, which some locals think of as the “Bournemouth International Carbuncle.” Suspicion of major redevelopment plans will now become endemic, and it will become difficult for the Council to pass any major development without exhaustive input, lest it become “another IMAX.” The obstruction of the sea view from the chine-head has already inspired determination not to let Boscombe’s Honeycombe Chine fall prey to such “runaway” development.”
4. Young Man, What’s Good For The Hotels Is Good For The Town
Another election-year story, as people inevitably tire of incessant politics in the media, may be a questioning of the real benefits to the town of Party Conference tourism. Officially, conferences bring in £75 million in “benefits,” and the traditional view is that this is regarded as worth turning the town centre into an armed camp as it becomes a magnet for demonstrators, and having every shop assistant who is not British interviewed by Special Branch as to their political beliefs in order to determine their fitness to serve the visiting VIPs. The £75 million figure is based on what each of the half-million annual guests is estimated to spend altogether in pubs, restaurants as well on hotels. It does not seem to include the cost of the event itself, such as the policing bill, or the free rides for VIPs offered by Council-run Yellow Buses. The quoted average spend, which this total is based on, is £145 per “bed-night,” but given conference-standard hotel prices of £100-plus per night, it seems unlikely much is left over. The figures imply most of it goes straight to a few dozen 3- and 4-star hotel owners -- plus the Council itself for the hire of the BIC and the extensive use of municipal car parks. There is a bitter irony here in that the only time most residents see an adequate police presence on the streets is when the Conferences are on, although these out-of-town police, for which locals have to help foot the bill, of course have no interest in “ordinary” i.e. non-political crime.
5. Your Council Needs You – To Decide
Another issue, in this looming national election year, will be the reform of the Borough Council in the form of its replacement by an elected, executive Mayor, possibly with his own Cabinet. The Government has a national plan to reform all Borough Councils -- not just the “loony left” ones Mrs Thatcher and the Daily Mail have long tilted at. Just before Christmas, BBC Radio 4 reported that 15 Local Authorities have already been warned by Government they may have their authority handed over to another Council. This plan has not been highly publicised, perhaps as it undoes the recent Local Government reorganisation from which many boroughs are still recovering, where, locally, Bournemouth and Poole became unitary authorities, separate from Dorset. The Government plans in any case to have the public choose one of three political models: US-style mayor with executive powers, Mayor and Cabinet, or Cabinet (and Council Leader). Bournemouth and Poole will have to hold votes on which option to adopt, though Christchurch is hoping to avoid the “unnecessary” expense of a vote. In the future, this could mean Mayors who campaign for election as individuals on a set of specific “reform” issues rather than just being Party delegates.
This could explain the Council’s sudden experiment with democracy over the Winter Gardens. After years of meetings to decide its fate, the Council came up with the notion of “you decide!” That is, they will finally decide its fate after a referendum – not a real, binding one of course, but a token sample, using coupons in its official publication the Bournemouth Journal. The Echo originally ran a front page showing a chocolate bar, saying “This Is A Fudge – And So Is This,” but the shift to American-style referenda and issue-oriented politics is one trend and news story that will not go away. Given Government’s attempt last year to manage the London Mayoral election to foil “Red Ken” Livingstone, this may well devolve into the most interesting political story of the day.
6. The New Lottery -- Education
The Labour government has always seen education as the socio-economic key to inner-city regeneration. Its 1997 election-manifesto priority hence was “Education, education, education,” and the year will see stories with an alphabet soup of initials such as LEA and LSC, as April 2001 sees the start of the largest changes to post-16 education yet. All of England’s TECs (Training & Enterprise Councils), plus the FEFC (Further Education Funding Council, which currently funds Colleges) will be closed down, replaced by the LSC, the Learning & Skills Council. Although Colleges were taken away from LEAs (Local Education Authorities) and privatised (as PLCs) in 1993, full-time courses will be inspected by OFSTED, the Office For State Education, alias HM Inspectorate of Schools. The Lottery apart, this will be the largest funding quango ever, and the players are already lining up in anticipation. Although the LSC will be business-oriented, it has already expressed a dislike for free-market competition, indicating that to avoid “duplication” of provision, it prefers magic-circle style partnerships. There is also a campaign being spearheaded by OFSTED’s ex-head Chris Woodhead, now a Daily Telegraph education columnist, to close down all LEAs (which run schools and Adult Education Services) as an “anachronism.” As far as adult-ed’s non-funded courses go, these would presumably be provided by “lifelong learning” community organisations along the lines of the U3A.
7. S.O.S. -- Save Our Structures
A continuing trend is the growth of private civic campaigns to save historic buildings and structures, under threat of demolition after years of little or no repair, from The Pavilion to Boscombe Pier, the best-known example being the Winter Gardens. Latest to be added to the campaigns list is Boscombe’s 125-year old corrugated iron church St John In The Woods – so named because it was founded at a time when much of Boscombe was woodland. At the moment each campaign is aimed at a single structure, although some people are involved in more than one campaign, but this may broaden out into more general campaigning as people lose confidence in official planning. (See the IMAX story above.) Concerns include the threat to established pubs being redeveloped by the breweries as “slurping toad” style watering holes. Bournemouth has a Civic Society which aims to help protect historic structures at risk, and which enjoys a certain cachet from the fact its founding president was Sir John Betjeman. He used his office as Poet Laureate to help voice opposition to the “concrete carbuncle” school of architectural modernism, as in his lines “Come friendly bombs, and fall on Slough / It isn’t fit for humans now.” No doubt similarly appealing equivalent local verses can be developed by poets in our arts community.
8. Not Planes, Not Trains, And Not Automobiles
An issue which could go off in various directions arises from the conurbation’s lack of any LRT system, actual or even planned. Light Rapid Transport is a feature of urban regeneration elsewhere, and we live after all, in the words of the AA/OS Leisure Guide To Wessex, in “the largest non-industrial conurbation in Europe.” As traffic congestion in “Wessex City” becomes widespread, the idea of an LRT system (proposed earlier by ex-Cllr Eric Barron) will no doubt belatedly appear on the official agenda. Experience elsewhere shows that it would mean major cost and disruption over several years, and loss of property values, with the Council having to compensate those along the route. As existing transport methods such as buses and rail trains go into decline, alternatives such as more cycle lanes will be proposed by stakeholders. Three options that focus on the seafront route and thus easily suit the planning cliché of an “integrated transport policy” would be (1) expansion of the land train route from a tourist-season attraction to a commuter service, (2) the promenade as a commuter-cycling route, and (3) a sea shuttle service. Already it is proposed that the Land Train route from Westbourne’s Alum Chine may be extended east along the Promenade to Southbourne and possibly all the way to Hengistbury Head. (A sea-shuttle service would of course discourage the proposed demolition of Boscombe Pier, as it would provide a useful landing dock.) The latest development is the “Pay And Dismay “ row over the Council’s proposed steep increase in car-parking charges, which would cut car traffic downtown. The increase was modified after a brief Echo campaign, which the council officer responsible condemned as “despicable.” (The Echo then pointed out he got free parking.)
9. The Things We Do For Love Of … TV
A national trend in TV production is docusoap and other such public-participation series, and Bournemouth has always been a favourite spot with TV producers for filming. This year -- just when you thought it safe to turn the TV back on after Dream Town II… Bournemouth is appearing in more such series, which no doubt will cause more comment in the letters, news and editorial pages. Last November, producers for the dance group Public Domain shot a music video, for showing on MTV and Top Of The Pops, at Richard Carr’s Boscombe Opera House club Slinky’s, featuring members of the public as extras, for “Operation Blade,” a hit single inspired by the Wesley Snipes vampire thriller Blade. Despite leisure and tourism chairman Councillor Jacky Harris’s objections, scenes were also shot in November in Bournemouth for Channel 4’s current late-night “fashion programme” game show, Get Yer Kit Off, in which competitors take their clothes off in public and try to “flirt, snog and bribe their togs” from passers-by. (“Grubby tatt,” said the Echo editorial.) Agents for Meridian TV, backers of Dream Town, have been discreetly fishing around for locals to appear in a documentary on the theme of the extravagant “things we do for love” -- such as “marriages held under water.” This may be based on stories the Echo runs regularly on fancy-dress and themed-event weddings. A BBC2 series, Date Doctor, is “hoping to film in your area,” looking for “lively singles” ages 30-45, for a docu-series “to help reluctant singles to more success on the date scene,” while a BBC1 documentary series “about money and the lengths to which some people will go to get hold of it” is looking for suitable human subjects such as “addicts, gamblers, compulsive collectors, misers and tragic inheritance disputes.” … No mention, interestingly, in this list of documentary makers increasingly desperate for human-interest subjects, but given the media’s fascination with itself, they may get their turn.
10. BoHo, SoHo?
Finally, a story we hope to see, although it may manifest itself only slowly, over the next few years, is the regeneration of Boscombe as the artistic heart of the Bournemouth conurbation. The prediction is based on another trend, the growth of businesses run out of the home, which has been made possible by the Internet. Such initiatives have been slow to develop in Britain compared to North America, partly due to the population living in flats or smaller houses. Whereas an American business can have its “home office” in a basement, spare bedroom, or loft, English homes often lack any such space, with many businesses having to be run out of a tiny back bedroom, or an alcove under the stairs. The acronym SoHo derives from the nickname for a revitalised Bohemian quarter of New York City, which in turn adapted the name of London’s touristy sin-in-the-city Soho district , to mean “Small Office, Home Office.” Since the 1980s, NYC’s SoHo has been known for its community of self-employed people running arts and crafts and consultancy businesses mainly out of lofts and ex-rooming houses converted into small offices and studios. (Martin Scorcese’s 1985 black comedy After Hours was set there.) While some cities such as LA have strict legislation against using your home as an office, similar districts have emerged elsewhere, as in San Francisco and Seattle, in the city’s traditional “Bohemian quarter,” where rents are relatively low. It is a kind of regeneration that can occur at grass-roots level without driving out existing small businesses – as happened in the 1980s with the regeneration of some inner cities where a former run-down district was “yuppified.” Especially with the existence of many HMOs [Houses of Multiple Occupation] which are a chronic local source of concern to Councillors, Boscombe seems the best prospect locally for a “Boho-SoHo” quarter.
Issues -- National
Stay At Home
This year, the usual attention paid to the March Budget was pushed aside by other concerns. National Vegetarian Month campaigners for a “meat-free March” as a secular counterpart to Lent could not have suspected the depths of bitter irony the foot-in-mouth crisis would bring. FMD first began to hit the rural economy, with international coverage of Britain as “Plague Island,” but with Bournemouth being “touring centre” for Dorset and the Forest, and the English countryside basically being out of bounds (footpaths closed across FMD-free Dorset -- just in case), fears grow it will affect tourism here.
We Need You To Help Us Decide -- But Not If You Feel That Way
The main Council news was Bournemouth developing its own form of foot-in-mouth disease by voting to overturn the results of their fate-of-the-Winter-Gardens “you decide” poll on grounds that a sample of only 5,000-odd people voting was, according to planning committee head Cllr Bob Lelliott, “abysmal.” The result was that Richard Carr’s proposal to develop the site received the most support, over 60%. This turnaround was reportedly nothing to do with the fact that the majority voting contradicted their own view – it was just the Council couldn’t allow itself to be swayed by a small group of people (although other Council consultation exercises involve as few as 20 people.) Council voted instead to demolish the building.
Vote For A Fictional Mayor?
Poole on the other hand conducted a successful PR campaign over local government reform. Signs appeared around town on roundabouts, buses etc asking simply Who Is Jules Joliffe? Eventually, it was revealed this was a Poole Council campaign aimed at perking public interest in the upcoming referendum, on what local government set up locals would like to see – elected mayor with American-style executive powers and 9-person cabinet, a cabinet with leader, or mayor plus a Council manager. Jules Joliffe was chosen as a local heritage name to represent a future mayor. This implies a new face, which is not so likely -- Dorset’s equivalent poll indicated 78% want a cabinet-with-leader, which implies that Party policy will appoint a leader, without any separate London-style election.
Bytes Of The Apple
The Echo reports that because of the skills shortage here, a local company have recruited a computer programming team from Transylvania (where they’re “big on bytes” said the Echo) at a £40,000-plus salary. The business press reports Bournemouth is now the 7th most profitable place in Britain to have a (large) business. This economic boom is not shared by Boscombe and West Howe, with their high rates of illiteracy, unemployment, and other forms of social deprivation. Both have been invited, as deprived urban areas, to apply for £1-million plus funding via a national pilot project to set up a “neighbourhood management” redevelopment programme (which will no doubt include an online component).
Son Of IMAX?
The IMAX was back in the press with fears of an “IMAX II” fiasco over the latest proposal for the old central bus station site, for a £40-million multiplex-cinema / health club / restaurant / bar complex with its own private car park. (The site is currently an NCP public car park.) The centrepiece would be a 10-cinema Odeon, raising fears of self-destructive over-competition – the national papers had just reported several international multiplex chains were in trouble over this. In the words of the Sunday Times (25 Mr), “There are simply too many screens.” In 1998 Virgin cinemas pulled out of a similar, Council-approved cinema-and-shops scheme, because of lack of interest from local retailers. In 1999, news of four planned new multiplexes, called in the local press “screen wars”, was repudiated by several of the companies -- consumer demand nationally had not kept pace with supply (Echo 2.9.99). (One could add the perennial problem, mentioned by readers’ letters, is that there are not enough films in mainstream distribution to offer additional choice.)
A Beeline For The Beehive
Another neighbourhood pub closure was announced, this time The Beehive, which has long been a social centre of Lilliput, both as fireside pub and restaurant. The brewery who own it want to sell it so it can be converted into luxury harbour-side housing – developers of course make a beeline for such lucrative waterside sites. This national trend, whereby breweries have gone into the realty business, selling off heritage sites and other prime assets (the Beehive was making a profit), is one local Councils seemed strangely unable to counter, despite their power to refuse a “change of use” planning application. The Beehive is an extreme example since it seems to have been there longer than any other building in Lilliput, with a history stretching back nearly two centuries, at least to 1813 -- before Waterloo.
The Strange Case Of The Tesco Bomber, The Twitchers, and MI5
An interesting wrinkle re the Tesco Blackmailer-Bomber (arrested and confessed in late February) emerged via the Sunday Times, which offered insight into the paranoid world of security intelligence. An anonymous letter, whose author claimed to be an MI5 officer, was sent to a BBC TV journalist, Julian Pettifer, who was also England’s head “twitcher” or bird-watcher -- President of the Royal Society For the Protection Of Birds. It told how MI5 staff were asked to investigate the “Dorset” bomber and the RSPB, which was possibly “out to undermine UK retailers” (i.e. Tesco) and in the grip of foreign agents (French supermarkets?). Staff were to provide information to a senior Tesco executive who was an associate of a senior MI5 figure. Pettifer had resigned as RSPB President after a documentary this January exposed fish farms, whose produce Tesco buys in bulk. Fish farms exist around Dorset – note how the request referred to the “Dorset” bomber, when he operated only in north Bournemouth.
Filled In On The Latest?
Bournemouth Council has released its latest redevelopment plan: fill in the BIC swimming pool to turn it into another conference venue, make the Pavilion the replacement for the Winter Gardens, and do something unspecified about the “tired“ Pier. It is applying for £40 million more in Private Finance Initiative matching funding, saying “tourism and culture” (i.e. downtown businesses), described as “an industry worth £500 million a year” (Echo 23 March) depend on it.
Despicable, You Say?
More criticisms appear in the press (“Barking Over Parking”) regarding the Council’s favourite source of income after the BIC, car parking charges, which are to be upped steeply, this time using parking meters. Last time, the Echo’s campaign (“Pay & Dismay”) was branded “despicable” by the Council officer in charge, Head Of Technical Services Steve Lelliott (son of planning chief Cllr Bob Lelliott), prompting The Echo to point out he enjoyed free parking. Bournemouth as well as Poole Council is now planning charging employees for parking – unless of course they have special permits given to management. Poole Council has begun its scheme, and residents around places like the Civic Centre now complain they have nowhere to park since civic workers are using their roadside spaces.
Visions Of Future Discontent
While Councillors complain that political stalemate over Boscombe’s long-awaited Honeycombe Chine seafront development has made the Council an object of ridicule, the private redevelopment of Poole seafront (the Marina, the Quay, and Poole Pottery) proceeds apace, with the opening of a Marina for yacht owners. “Vision Of Future” was the Echo headline, showing an architect’s painting of the same futuristic type that once made Poole Bus Station look glamorous to Councillors. The controversies over the waterfront privatisation give an insight what the Honeycombe developers and councillors have to look forward to: public outrage in the press over the cost, disruption, and restricted public access. As forward thinkers like to say, “And that’s only the beginning.”
Help Us Decide
It is perhaps predictable the Labour Government’s idea of shifting local government towards a US model has included a controversy similar to the recent US election fiasco over the polling arrangements in the Council’s “you help us decide” fate-of-the-Winter-Gardens survey. These relied on the Council’s own publication, the Bournemouth Journal, to supply voting forms, at a cost of £6,000. Published letters pointed out these are not delivered to every household, especially blocks of flats. In response to the ensuing criticism, Cllr Gritt wrote in the Echo, “The Winter Gardens decision is now Council policy and if people wish to change that, please do it by the democratic process…” What he means was not clarified, but this in itself has led to more angry letters. (Does this mean Councillors with a majority of under 5,000 should resign on principle? -- No doubt there are some out there who would welcome such a majority.)
Save The Winter Gardens – From The Council
Nearly 30,000 people have already in fact signed a last-minute petition to save the Winter Gardens, undermining the Councillors’ position, based on their mismanaged referendum, that public support was pathetic. As the campaign’s co-organizers put it in a letter, the Winter Gardens is more than a building, it’s a symbol of local culture. However it may be that some signed the petition simply as an objection to the way the Council did its business.
Foot In Mouth – An Independent Report
Official statements concerning the negative socio-economic impact of Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD) on the regions prompt columnist and novelist Howard Jacobson, in order to see if the countryside was indeed open for business as the government claimed, for some reason to come to Bournemouth (Dorset has remained FMD-free.) His article, published in The Independent (31.3.01), is more Foot In Mouth, Jacobson ranting about seasonal closure of small hotels and (a short section of) the Esplanade. (“Bournemouth … where cliffs crumble and sheep burn.”) He was even more upset at having to mix with “the lower orders,” and being stranded in a hotel with “the cast of Carry On EastEnders”, and it ended with him (by his own account) shouting obscenities at a family with children in a hotel dining room, then responding they had no right to object since everything the lower orders read, watched, did and ate was “filth.” The April 2nd Echo carries a mild rebuttal from tourism reps that the writer seemed a bit “grumpy.”
Educashun, Educashun, Educashun
The crisis in education remains a national front-page issue. As part of its drive to solve the national illiteracy problem (see February), the government has created the largest quango in British history. With a first-year budget of £5.5bn, the Learning & Skills Council, responsible for all post-16 education and training short of university, begins operation next month, with a local chapter, The Bournemouth Dorset & Poole Learning & Skills Council, now being set up. The press statement notes the British are “the least educated and lowest-skilled workforce in western Europe,” but it plans to “put Britain among the top countries by 2010,” with ”a world-class workforce.”
Curiously, there are no fresh controversies or press stories about the IMAX this month – is this a first?
A Camera Even More Obscura
The Council seems to be contemplating taking legal action (see our December coverage) over the town-centre Camera Obscura, which still never seems to be open, despite a new colour flyer advertising it as a tourist attraction.
A Beehive Of Luxury Homes
A petition to Poole Council to save the 188-year old Beehive pub in Lilliput from being turned into a block of luxury flats predictably fails to do so.
Off The Roads
Transport issues are much in the news this month. First, there are items about the looming bus lane. It is in fact a national (centrally funded) scheme which also made the Daily Mail cover (28.4.01) when government extended its plans to include motorways. To help relieve traffic congestion, Boscombe Cllr Phil Stanley proposes firms sponsor a Council-owned Yellow bus. A reader proposed an American-style prepaid flat rate ticket system, in this case priced at 50p. The Council announces it will take a half-century at current investment levels to repair the local road network -- but they’re working on it.
Off The Buses
Another transport-news thread is the “Bus Stunt Kids” misbehaving-youth stories – not only are both Red and Yellow buses regularly pelted by stones, but a boy actually fell out of a Yellow bus, while elsewhere boys are jumping onto Red Bus rear bumpers. Finally, at month’s end Red Buses announce a series of 24-hour bus strikes in May, each spread over 2 days to maximise disruption during exams (“Bus Strike To ‘Bring Chaos’”), with children unable to get home from school the first day and unable get to it on the second. Management deny grievances are anything to do with them trying to adhere (according to a driver’s anonymously-published letter) to “1970s” schedules and pay rates (£5.62/hr). Yellow Buses drivers (who get a rate of £6+/hr) also vote to strike over pay.
On The Trail Of “Dream Town”
The latest local tourism initiative, dreamt up by Brilliant Ideas R Us, a team of Boscombe consultants funded by a £50,000 EU grant, is to have a tourism heritage trail with blue plaques following up locations from the two ITV Dream Town docusoap series. “It may have had a mixed reception, but after all, the big movie companies have been boycotting the town for years, so beggars can’t be choosers. And people have begun using variations on the series name in letters to the press, such “No Dream Town Here” and “Nightmare Town,” so it’s officially part of our heritage, whether you like it or not, and must be protected,” said Ben Dover, Head of Democratic Services, adding a preservation order may also be slapped on homes glimpsed in the series to prevent them from being altered in any way, and they will have to carry blue plaques so that coach tours can visit them.
To The Vote-Swapping
The national Election was postponed to June, officially due to the Foot & Mouth crisis. The main election-campaign story, a national one, was the new, internet-based practise of “tactical voting” – a vote-swapping arrangement, inspired by US precedents, involving switching votes to last election’s runner-up to tip the balance. Regionally, it was supported by Dorset-resident socialist songwriter Billy Bragg, who established a website, www.votedorset.net, linked to national sites like www.tacticalvoter.net, to unite Labour and LibDem supporters by email in vote-swapping pledges against local Tories under the slogan, “You have nothing to lose but your Tory MP.”
Just Vote For Us, And We’ll Decide Everything For You
Councils themselves seem to be avoiding the expected referenda with their consultation exercises on which of 3 local government setups they prefer. Bournemouth’s exercise, again using the discredited method of relying on its in-house Journal to supply voting forms, garnered only 669 votes. (Earlier, a Council chief had called the 5,000-plus votes to save the Winter Gardens “abysmal,” and a similar slighting dismissal had been made by Council officer Steve Lelliott of the Echo’s “despicable” week-long Pay-&-Dismay campaign, when they got only “150 representations from five-odd million people that visit this town.”) According to letters of complaint in the press, Poole decided to proceed with its own preferred “B” option before the consultation exercise was completed. And Christchurch decided it was too small to need to hold a consultation referendum vote at all. Labour of course imposed the requirement of a consultation as a first step to reform local government, and make it more accountable.
Three Strikes And You’re Out Of Luck
This being the election campaign month and Mayday traditionally launching a month to celebrate workers, the main transport news is, predictably, strikes. First, Wilts & Dorset Red Buses are hit just as they were trying to promote themselves in the manner of a tour-coach company with their first glossy A4 brochure (“in full colour throughout”). This brochure, heralding their new £7-million disabled-friendly buses (“easy access for wheelchairs”), is mentioned in a front-page story in the Echo (11 May) when a woman in a wheelchair is refused by a driver who said it was company policy, leaving her stranded in the Square, along with the student who had tried to help her. Red Buses suffers a couple of 24-hour strikes which actually run, for increased impact, from noon to noon. A third strike is called off when a pay settlement is reached, but in the meantime, Yellow Buses drivers also vote to strike over pay. As a series of 24-hour train strikes (over SWT’s uniform requirements) also begin on the 3rd, those dependent on public transport are out of luck when these coincide.
“Corruption Probe At Town Hall”
In what may be the first corruption probe at Town Hall since Scotland Yard’s 1961 Pavilion-moneys probe which “brought national shame to Bournemouth” (Echo), Head Of Bournemouth Council Technical Services Steve Lelliott, who had attacked the Echo’s January “Pay & Dismay” parking-fee-rise protest as “despicable”, is arrested at his home in Burley over a corruption allegation in connection with his duties awarding car park and other construction contracts. His father Cllr Bob Lelliott, also a Dorset non-resident who is qualified to stand as a Councillor only as his construction company has an address in town, resigns from Dorset Police Authority, though remaining Bournemouth Council planning chief, and Conservative leader.
How The Tesco Bomber Was Caught
With the Tesco blackmailer-bomber behind bars (sentenced to 16 years), the Echo ran a feature May 5th (“Nailed”) revealing the back story of Operation Hornbill (see March column on the MI5-Tesco link), the paper cooperating with police in arranging classified ads which were their only line of return communication, before CCTV surveillance caught him posting a ransom demand.
Wanted -- The BH9 Gang
The murder of a family man, Clive Wilcox, after an altercation outside a Wimborne shop with a gang of schoolboys and girls, draws attention to the need for CCTV when it is revealed the shop’s camera was not operational. The murder launched another outcry over young thugs, one article naming the so-called BH9 Gang, who were said to be completely out of control, the Echo offering a £1,000 reward for information.
A Narrow Scrape
A 72-year old woman makes the national news May 7th when, during a sailboat race, she is dragged by the ebb tide under the hull of the Sandbanks chain ferry at Poole Harbour’s narrow and increasingly busy entrance. Four boats in the race are swept into the chain-ferry while a big cross-Channel ferry enters the harbour mouth. Well-illustrated by witnesses’ snaps and a sequence of still-frames from camcorder footage, it makes for a national human-interest story, complete with a happy ending (she survived intact protected by her thick clothing). But there is also an underlying safety implication, as yachting traffic multiplies with the new marina, that this is the equivalent of playing in the roadway.
LSC -- Less Secondary Competition?
This past month Britain’s biggest quango, the LSC, the Learning & Skills Council, responsible for all post-secondary pre-university education, opened its doors. Though its catchphrase is “widening participation,” the national LSC has already expressed a preference for “magic-circle” style strategic alliances among providers. Locally, The Bournemouth Dorset & Poole Learning & Skills Council has already set up the 24-member BDPLLP, the Bournemouth Dorset & Poole Lifelong Learning Partnership, to apportion the £130 million in local funding. For the moment, this includes the LEAs – the Council-run Local Education Authorities, which run Adult Education Services as well as schools, but Labour has pledged to follow through the Conservative plan to eliminate all LEAs as an “anachronism” -- to bring all education under central control. Funding for “Other Training” (such as many community-based schemes) is also to be cut off after September.
Learn English Here, And Lots More, Beside The Seaside
Local public as well as private education providers, backed by Council tourism departments, have joined forces to attract foreign students, 25,000 of whom currently spend £100 million locally, with an “English-Plus” tourism package. The International Education Forum has been formed by the College, University, Arts Institute and language schools to “market English education worldwide” and sell “local education facilities as a package.”
Not With A Wimpy, But A Bang?
Both Southern Tourist Board Chairman and Bournemouth’s entertainment tycoon Richard Carr announce to the new “Tourism Action Group” he chairs that major sponsorship was the only way for the resort to prosper. STB Chairman Michael Green says he is thinking of locally-based institutions – “Maybe the Portman would like to sponsor the town.” Carr makes the Echo’s front page (18 May) when he proposes the town’s heritage attractions and even council vehicles be sponsored by companies such as fast-food or soft drink manufacturers. An Echo online poll says over 70% of respondents approved this idea, but a medical consultant is quoted as saying he already sees enough overweight kids with rotten teeth. Night-club owner Carr says the idea is to send out “a subliminal message that Bournemouth is associated with a certain product.” Since he knows Bournemouth’s commercial appeal is now very much as a drinking and night-club centre, with the availability of drugs a major attraction, not to mention being voted in a magazine poll the “best place to have sex on the beach,” certain other products may well soon be proposed, and there are precedents – for example, Durex co-sponsors the Ibiza 2001 music festival, as well as weekly “balls.”
Rid Of The Blues
-- You Vote
Red, And I’ll
The national Election’s main talking point in the press was alarm from the ruling Conservative parties over the new, US-inspired internet-based practise of tactical voting – the vote-swapping arrangement involving email pledges to switch votes to last election’s runner-up to tip the balance against Conservative narrow-margin winners. In Dorset, the tactic was supported by left-wing songwriter Billy Bragg, with his own website, votedorset.net. It explained, since the British electoral system forsakes (on the grounds an extremist “fringe” party might gain a seat) proportional representation in favour of a first-past-the-post arrangement, elections are often won by a slender margin by Tory candidates lacking a simple majority even in a mainly 3-way race (even Mrs T never had an actual majority, peaking out at around 44%). A swing of as little as 0.7% for example would cost them North Poole. Such prospects caused real alarm among Conservatives and nationally they tried to get vote-swapping, and sites like Bragg’s declared illegal by the Electoral Commission – unsuccessfully.
And The Winner Is …
But come the night, tactical voting seems to have made less difference locally than hoped (or feared), turnout being so generally low, the election being mainly otherwise characterised in the press as a triumph of public alienation and apathy. The Guardian (6 June) ran a feature listing the likely “swing” areas, which included two in Dorset, plus Christchurch. But while those Conservative bastions in rural Dorset fell, Christchurch, with a 28% illiteracy rate, stayed “true blue,” as did Bournemouth. However, as they say in politics, next time things’ll be different. In fact, the Electoral Commissioner has already announced email voting could be a reality for local council elections next year .…
The Missing Voter “Conspiracy”
One factor was that many people did not vote for anyone. While journalists demonstrated the ease of electoral fraud (you could phone up and order multiple postal votes), some local residents were unable to vote at all, as they did not receive registration cards. This has happened before, and there were accusations in the paper of conspiracy, which may have been inspired by the non-delivery of the Bournemouth Journal issue with the Winter Gardens polling form. It’s been said that some students hired to deliver such items just dump them on waste ground. However, it may also be that many actual registration forms were lost in the post. The consumer organisation Postwatch estimates up to a million pieces of mail per week are being dumped in rotating local walkouts since the Royal Mail lost its exclusive status, and was redesignated “Consignia” (a preliminary to contracting out letter delivery). One item the Post Office is thus no longer responsible for is the Census Form, which has been left to local Councils both to deliver and to ensure return of the completed forms. Stories in the national press suggest millions were never delivered or collected.
Jules Joliffe, Mayor Online
One civic body providing some online content on its website is Poole Borough (www.poole.gov.uk). As everyone awaits the results of the local-government reform poll, their site explains in detail how it organised its successful “Jules Joliffe” campaign, which generated the country’s highest participation rate in the poll, with over a 25% voting rate. The new idea of an elected mayor is not likely to be adopted by the Council, however. Support for this is split between 2 out of the 3 options –a deliberate move, some say, by Government in order to avoid powerful local mayors akin to London’s “Red Ken.” Nevertheless, a petition of 5,000-plus for an elected mayor could still result in the requirement for a formal referendum.
Hen Nights Out With The Ladettes
On the club scene, the national press (e.g. both Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times 24 June) have run stories about a new menace – hen nights out organized by the rowdy young working women the press calls “ladettes.” Their misbehaviour has led some hotels to refuse bookings of all-women parties – even where they accept stag-night parties. Locally, there was an earlier such women-behaving-badly incident where a play at the Pavilion had to be halted for police to escort a group of drunken ladettes out when they insisted on treating the play as a striptease show.
In Search Of The Secret Formula
Other resorts have been sending spies to Bournemouth to discover its secrets, reports the 5 June Echo. The Southern Tourist Board chairman revealed that agents for Hastings and Southampton have been doing the local club circuit purely for purposes of research. This commercial espionage is inspired by the town’s new-found success as a British Ibiza. Unlike the real Ibiza, British tourists don’t have to queue at the airport, stay at a hotel that is like a building site, or eat “inedible” foreign food, explained the STB chairman, a former publican.
The Train Now Booking
In transport news, there never seems to be any good news, but the Sunday Express ran a story, as did the Echo, on one of the few success stories in the transport field, the 30-year old Bournemouth Rail Travel charter service, founded to offer cheap rail travel. It has had to abandon its cross-country day excursions since the break-up of British Rail, but you can still book a return to London via BRT for £11. The service was established in 1972 by Anthony Stone, a then Poole College student now a passenger transport consultant, currently has over 20,000 members, and has recently put up its own bookings website (www.bomorail.fsnet.co.uk).
The Copycat Blackmailer-Bomber
The Tesco blackmail-bomber is sentenced to 16 years. Despite earlier belief by MI5 (see May Media Review) that the bombing campaign might be an anti-capitalist statement, the demands of the real Tesco blackmail-bomber proved not political but mercenary. He was inspired not by anarchist groups, as suspected, but by similar corporate-blackmail schemes which relied on a seemingly secure bank cash-machines pay-out system (foiled by surveillance), one a razor-blades-in-baby-food contamination scheme run by an ex-policeman, and another by a failed restaurateur against Barclays and Sainsburys. The national press reported he got the idea from reading about them in Readers Digest.
Boscombe – The Spa Village?
After the failure of the earlier Boscombe Honeycombe Chine scheme (see February’s Media Review), a ‘Green Tourism’ plan was submitted last month for a seafront ‘Boscombe Spa Village’ by Green Globe, a now locally-based national organisation that develops “sustainable” tourism projects. It would include an interactive science attraction, a refurbished pier, and the planned surf reef. Nevertheless it would also include the already-planned and much-criticised 170 luxury homes – the actual ‘Boscombe Spa Village.’ The Council still insists they must sell off Boscombe seafront for luxury housing or there will not be the money to pay for any other benefits. Boscombe Cllr Roger West commented: ‘I particularly like the idea of re-naming … Boscombe, which is associated with just a shopping area.’ [!]
The “St Tropez Of Dorset”?
Poole’s planned seafront revamp has somehow already got the town the nickname in the press “The St Tropez Of Dorset.” Retired cartoonist Len Way does a Giles-style cartoon published in the local papers (see Echo 9.6.01), a satiric panorama perhaps with a cautionary moral, showing a futuristic look at the Quay area as a jam-packed tourist “mecca.” But who started this and what the nickname implies exactly are questions still to be clarified. The actual St Tropez has a tiny, and mainly wealthy, population -- the one who originally made it famous being actress Brigitte Bardot.
Wanted – A Cultural Oasis In A Cultural
The Winter Gardens now has a “For Sale” sign, an outcome that composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies labels vandalism, saying it makes him ashamed to be British, and that the town was in danger of becoming a “desert of materialistic Philistinism.” And the outcome of three years legal arguing over Boscombe’s Shelley Museum is that Bournemouth Council finally comes to an agreement with the Arts Institute to take it over, and promptly closes it. The July 13 Echo runs a feature about local artists complaining Bournemouth is a “cultural desert,” with no arts centre of even suitable exhibition space, quoting some local officials as agreeing up to a point.
A Virtual Community Online?
Bournemouth’s web presence is continuing to grow beyond the various hotel-booking sites and official Council sites, one of which, Bournemouth Tourism’s, has now been updated (www.binarymedia.co.uk/bournemouth). A new Poole harbour webcam for fair-weather sailors is at www.boatasticweather.com. And the Uni, who pioneered the now-defunct Coastlines project to represent the conurbation online, has got a half-million in Lottery funds to produce an online regional Domesday Book historical database called Sense Of the South West (part of a general trend to put local histories online as millennial projects). The Echo‘s parent organization, NewsQuest, is establishing a new public-access site, called CommuniGate, whereby non-profit organizations can post their own free sub-pages, at www.communigate.co.uk. However the tryout of a webcam in Poole’s Civic Centre has been halted after some Councillors objected.
They Hide In The Bushes, And They Breed
Campaigners for better security via CCTV to cut crime have been dismayed by a new twist. Most of the money earmarked for CCTV is to be spent on more speed cameras, the police having now been told they can keep the fines to reinvest – in even more cameras. The new Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has added cameras should be visible as a deterrent, although this would obviously cut down on revenues. The Daily Mail has been running its own campaign against hidden speed cameras as simply a hypocritical form of taxation, since the “deterrent factor” is strictly after the fact, whereas the knowledge one exists ahead would slow down prudent Daily Mail readers, who always obey the law when they know they are being observed.
Two Forces Meet Over Two Rivers Meet
Christchurch Council gets caught in a cross-fire of public protests and conflicting policy statements over plans (tentative, they say) to redevelop (or was it privatise?) the borough’s only public leisure centre, at Two Rivers Meet. After a petition of over 7,000 signatures and a “demo” march by over a thousand locals (“scenes never before seen in the town” said the Echo), Councillors claim their intentions were misunderstood, and they never really intended to sell or lease part of it. No, really!
“Went To Bournemouth Once – It Was Closed”
“Went to Philadelphia once,” said WC Fields, “but it was closed”. Following similar comments in the Independent feature (see April Review), other visitors have been making similar comments about Bournemouth when they arrive after 5pm. Early closing times (from 5.30 pm on) of seafront facilities (such as deckchairs, the cliff lifts, and even the Pier, which is actually blocked off at 6.30pm) cause criticism, from holidaymakers and by local tycoon Richard Carr. And it was announced, on the 3rd anniversary of the IMAX’s non-opening, that it would probably stay closed this summer as well, the owner’s equivocation over this prompting the Echo to run a fancy-that picture of it with a pigs-might-fly motif.
The Blair Pitch Project
Due to criticisms they had abandoned the British countryside, the Blairs had promised to spend two weeks holiday in Britain this year, and the Echo (July 7) pitches a family things-to-do-in-Bournemouth list for the Blairs. Their list includes such activities as Tony and Cherie walking on the beach and looking at retirement homes, and Euan sipping a cappuccino in a student café. One could add: Cherie could get her hair ironed down by one of our College-trained hairdressers, and finally repair the damage done by her horsehair QC’s wig. Tony could practise his French, and his big smile, on the town’s many foreign students, though he should avoid Italians – their press calls him Signor Pinocchio. And Euan, who had to be locked in a hotel lift by staff in Tuscany, and was brought home by police sick-drunk in London, would scarcely be able to believe his luck when he finds there are more pubs here than in Soho.
A Home Away From Home – To You, Only £250,000
As part of their traditional summer-holiday features, the Sunday Telegraph (29 July) suggests using your summer hols to house-hunt for that second home. It publicizes the fact that “incomers” can acquire a Dorset coast property for a modest (by London standards) price of a few hundred thousand. It adds reassuringly, don’t worry, there’s a variety of housing available --- the locals can’t afford it, and most of your neighbours will soon be civilized incomers like yourself.
Surf Versus Shingle?
A plan to resupply Southbourne beach with shingle rather than sand to slow down coastal erosion has become the latest seafront controversy. Council rebuttals, that this was not a new strategy but following on God’s own handiwork, fall on stony ground with the public, especially as our “7 golden miles” of sandy beaches was a previously publicized “point” in the Bournemouth v Brighton slanging match of several years ago, Brighton having a pebble beach, to which was added a small heap of sand for publicity. The Echo found it all very punny (“Stone Me!” “Council Is Living In The Stone Age” etc). Some Councillors said the change will end surfing in Southbourne, though a surf-supporting Southbourne-resident ecologist (“Wave of Protest” Echo 28 July) claims another reef like the proposed Boscombe Surf Reef would make shingle unnecessary.
Las Vegas By The Sea? – Don’t Gamble On It
Now that gaming laws are to be relaxed, the national press runs “Las Vegas By The Sea” articles on Blackpool’s interest in establishing gambling (their beach is eroded and dirty) in themed “Pharaoh’s Palace” hotels. Blackpool being Bournemouth’s traditional rival for party conferences, this naturally prompts fears towns like ours would follow suit. The town already has three casinos, and some cynics have said the IMAX site will inevitably end up a casino too -- this being in fact one of the original approved uses for the site. Hunter Davies’s “Don’t Ruin Our Heritage With Las Vegas On Sea” (Mail 22 July), says “Brighton and Bournemouth are sure to follow ....” Plans have in fact already been made: the Echo’s July 31 “Monte Carlo Or Bust” story adds “councillors have suggested the Winter Gardens could be the site of a new casino hotel.”
The Water’s Fine – Shame About The Weather Forecast
All Bournemouth bathing beaches are given a clean bill of health this year water-wise. Unfortunately, the weather proves classic unpredictable “English summer.” The Met Office and press make it worse by alternatively forecasting more of whatever weather pattern – rain or shine -- is current. After rain and cooler nights end the June heat, a spell of “Arctic winds” was predicted and then, when that proved wrong, people are urged to cancel planned overseas holidays, it being “hotter than Hawaii” here – only for heatwave to turn into monsoon. The Boscombe Carnival luckily coincides with a sunny day, making a “South Pacific” theme popular. “Try and keep your clothes on,” the Mayor tells participants. According to the Echo, the judges favoured local Conservatives in sailor suits or Hawaiian grass skirts, while others turned into animals, and a good time was had by all.
… Our Shout-- Keep Off The Grass … Disposable Income Versus Disposable Workers … You Have The Right To Remain -- Clamped … We Shall Guard Them On The Beaches … Multiplexes To Play Musical Chairs? … BoMo -- The New Ibiza? … One Big Not So Happy Family … Southbourne SOS – God Save Our Sand … The Right To Walk To A Neighbourhood Pub? … How Much For A Sea View Again?
Shout -- Keep
Off The Grass
There are continuing complaints about early closure of Council-run public facilities, and fears that even public spaces are being lost. It emerged that the Council had not informed the public that land area around the Winter Gardens, including 3.5 acres of public footpaths and grassy areas, is also to be sold off. The Council’s printed response was the developer can do whatever he wants – the public no longer has any access rights.
The “Gay Pride” and Fireworks Gala Concert events were both marked by complaints that public footpaths in Meyrick Park were blocked by security men. In regard to licensing out public spaces, the Council has also been licensing the Square to be taken over some Saturday mornings by a promoter with a mike haranguing café patrons and passers-by alike. To more complaints about early-closing, including airport facilities, Bournemouth and Boscombe Piers, and the fact there were no shows at the BIC during most of (rainy) July, the Director of Tourism’s published response was that complainants such as letter writers and the Echo editor could volunteer their own services as evening staff. The problem of obtaining staff he refers to as the underlying reason is part of a more general local issue in catering and hotel work, of low pay and lack of employment rights.
Disposable Income Versus Disposable Workers
The “slave wages” controversy is an ongoing issue, related to the use of foreign workers, principally Portuguese from depressed rural districts, who come to Bournemouth to work (in Portugal you must be properly qualified to work as a waiter or waitress). On the other hand, the Echo revealed, one in 25 local young (under-30) urban professionals (yuppies for short) now earns over £60,000 per annum. They also run an investigative feature on the “B&B trap,” on the many families being kept by the Council in B&Bs, at substantial expense. The type of story one used to encounter in the 1980s-90s “Costa del Dole” recession-era, it’s now more a by-product of the lack of affordable local housing. Like MPs, Bournemouth Councillors themselves are to receive a “generous” allowances boost, of up to £7000. It was pointed out that other “professionals” such as head teachers and GPs get more (though of course these are proper fulltime jobs).
We Shall Guard Them On The Beaches?
At the start of the month, a local police proposal that a “safe haven” be established for foreign students in a local beach sector gained the town international publicity. Stories in Le Monde (later translated in the Echo 21.8.01) and Bild as well as The Guardian recounted the recent series of unprosecuted attacks on foreign students, a mix of xenophobia and mugging. The proposal was met with alarm, an implicit admission of failure by the police. The foreign press of course may be unaware that “the largest non-industrial conurbation in Europe” (AA/OS Leisure Guide to Wessex) is policed by a small rural force with its HQ in the central Dorset village of Winfrith -- despite the fact that neither Bournemouth nor Poole are even part of Dorset -- rather than by a Continental-style federal police force or even by a dedicated US-style “city” one. The Guardian feature (2.8.01) quoted the police as saying they were not creating a segregated beach, and that others would be allowed to use the safe haven.
You Have The Right To Remain … Clamped
An issue in the national press almost daily is the use of traffic cameras, with the police now keeping the revenues to buy more traffic cameras rather for requested services like more beat officers, or even for town-centre CCTV. These purchases will not just be speed cameras but parking cameras as well, which will earn Councils revenues. The Government’s plan to create a more obvious police presence by putting detectives back on the street in uniform (unpopular with CID) has been followed by one to give traffic wardens police powers, and rather than just give out tickets they will be able to make arrests. Paradoxically, local wardens now working for Dorset Police will been taken over by Bournemouth Council September 3rd, so that in future the Council can keep the fines.
One Big Not So Happy Family
The Blairs, planning an “English” holiday, failed to respond to local tourism brochures sent them, but to experience the real English seaside went instead to Cornwall, and after that to France where they stayed at a country house used, the press reported, to film porn movies. Of course the family have the chance to visit Bournemouth whenever Labour hold a party conference here – which unfortunately for hoteliers etc is not for a while. However the Conservatives will be at the BIC September 6th to argue out their leadership in what promises to be a well-covered debate media-wise. (As the Mirror’s headline put it, “They All Hate Each Other”.)
Multiplexes To Play Musical Chairs?
The planned Lower Gardens multiplex is now officially on hold, but there is no prospect of the present NCP car-park site returning to its original designated use as a bus station (which ended with a “mysterious” fire in 1976). This planning decision relates to proposal not for more cinemas, as previously surmised, but to close the existing pair of Westover Road multiplexes -- hence the plan for a new multiplex across the Gardens. A Council officer has warned Councillors they may be sued for costs if they refuse to endorse the proposal. And rumour has it, so they say, that in a change which will not even require planning permission, much of Westover Road, namely the two existing cinema buildings plus the derelict ice rink, is to be taken over by a new 4,000-capacity “super-club.”
BoMo -- The New Ibiza?
The latest proposal for a “super-club” ties in with other stories this month. The US company which runs Jezebelle’s also wants increase its capacity and to have real nude table-dancers, as does competitor For Your Eyes Only. This is part of a general trend appearing in the press to see “BoMo” as “the new Ibiza” (Financial Times). It is partly inspired by the recent police “crack down” (the press pun used, crack cocaine, geddit) on drugs (Ecstasy as well as cocaine) on Ibiza and Cyprus’s club capital and “drugs paradise” of Ayia Napa. The idea is the ravers and clubbers could converge on “BoMo”, where there are virtually no police. Locals who are not thrilled at the prospect of the town becoming the new club and party (read drink and drugs) capital, with up to 4,000 clubbers spilling out into the streets and Lower Gardens at 2 am nightly, tend to be referred to in the press as “the blue rinse set.” As the recent Observer feature (19.8.01) “Bournemouth Waltzes To A New Beat Called Chic,” puts it, “the former home of the blue-rinse brigade now has more bars than Soho.” (The total number of bars is put at 221.)
Southbourne SOS – God Save Our Sand
Despite protests, in which the Echo was again denounced for editorialising by a Councillor (“a hysterical campaign”), this time Conservative leader Bob Chapman, who had reportedly implied the situation was God’s will, the shingling of Southbourne beach is going ahead. But the controversy has revitalised discussion over the proposed surf reef, namely that creation of a reef would obviate the need for shingling – now branded the “Hayling Island solution” – after beach shingling preceded the decline of the once-popular Hampshire caravanning resort. This would be an additional surf reef to the one proposed for Boscombe. Recent press features (cf Sunday Telegraph 12.8.01) on surfing say there are now over 100,000 UK surfers, not including the ”grimmies” or “shubbees” who don’t really surf but saunter around with surfboards looking really cool dudes in their wetsuits.
The Right To Walk -- To A Neighbourhood Pub?
Despite all the protests, The Beehive pub in Lilliput was demolished for sale and conversion into luxury flats. Government advisors reportedly told Poole Council staff there was nothing they could do to stop it. (In fact there was a case where Dorset Council recently halted a similar change of use at Wareham’s Black Bear, and similar cases are cited in London). Also, an article in the Mail (7.8.01) tells of a case where citizens took the brewery to court in Brussels, the EU court ruling, which accords with Prince Charles’s recently-publicised view (cf Telegraph 23.7.01), that a village pub is a central feature of local life. The Beehive was of course a neighbourhood pub within the conurbation, but the situation is comparable, with the drink’n-drive safety aspect still valid.
How Much For A Sea View Again?
While major public projects are held up, the race is still on among wealthy Londoners to buy up as much of the waterfront as possible. The latest impetus is the redevelopment of Poole Waterfront -- as in the Sunday Telegraph’s 26 August feature, “Poole’s A Winner --As Smart Flats Fill The Old Pottery Site, The Race Is On To Buy Into Dorset’s Waterside Good Life.” It is already one of the most expensive real estate strips on the planet, more expensive than most of London or New York. “Land overlooking the Harbour is worth about £5 million an acre.” (This explains why The Beehive went so quick.) And whereas 2-bedroom flats on Poole seafront cost £250,000-£740,000, even at Boscombe’s Honeycombe Chine, a seafront flat costing only £98,000 last year has risen in value by nearly 50%, to £144,000.