Maltings site

Maltings site sold for redevelopment – but what now?

Salisbury Democracy Alliance has argued for some time now that with big decisions facing the city, employing the Citizens’ Assembly technique should be considered. We have tried to get the concept incorporated into party manifestos – with some success – but with the proposal to go ahead with the redevelopment of the Maltings, it is looking as though the opportunity to employ the technique with this project is slipping by. That would be a pity.

The idea of a CA is to convene a carefully and demographically selected group of local people to come together over three weekends and, advised by a range of experts, to consider a problem in depth. What to do with the Maltings and the relocation of the Library would be an ideal project. The advantages would include proper involvement of local people in the project, an absence of any political posturing and ideas and recommendations put forward which have been properly considered.

It contrasts with what is likely to happen at the Maltings. The sale to Catella APAM already begins to limit the likely options for redevelopment. A quick look on their webpage shows that they are a property company who do a lot of the early development to enable a scheme to be sold on to investors. Nothing wrong in that but their focus will be on viability and making a return. That’s their business. Since Salisbury is not ‘prime’ in property terms it is likely to mean that the returns will be have to be a little higher to sell the project to investors.

What is striking in the Salisbury Journal article (Council leader’s vision for future as Maltings site is sold, March 3, 2022) is actually the absence of any vision. The quote: ‘Despite “nothing specific” tabled for the area right now, Cllr Clewer added, “I’m sure Catella has its own ideas for the site, we need to understand what it wants to do taking this forward and we look forward to working with them” more or less sums it up (my italics). It will be Catella deciding on what it wants for the site. If the quote is accurate, it represents a depressing state of affairs where, without any clear vision for the site or proper consideration of Salisbury’s wider shopping and recreation needs – and certainly no consultation or input from the citizenry – the site is sold for a property company to basically do what it wants with it.

So what is likely to happen? Catella will do their analysis of the site and look at rentals and how it can be redeveloped to provide a return likely to be attractive to a future investor. A proposal with a strong commercial emphasis will be put forward and there is likely to be a consultation of some kind at that stage. There will then be several weeks of sturm and drang with letters in the Journal complaining about this and that (‘missed opportunity’ is guaranteed to be said) and Catella may agree to some minor changes. Then to planning and basically it will all be over. Thus an opportunity to think carefully about how the site might be developed to enhance the wider prosperity of the city will have been lost.

Many years ago, C Northcote Parkinson wrote The Pursuit of Progress, famous for its law about work filling the time available. But he also, if I recall correctly, talked about how council committees would wave through major projects they did not understand but would argue passionately about the bicycle sheds which they did. I don’t wish to be unkind, but I am reminded of this here. This would have been a golden opportunity to set up a Citizens’ Assembly and to develop a vision for the site, a vision where we the citizens would have an input into what could happen. Of course, commercial realities may temper the vision, but simply to sell a key site without any vision and wait for a developer to give you one is, in my view, a very poor show.

Peter Curbishley

[These views are not necessarily those of other members of SDA]