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New Stadium - Press Bias?

Neil Wolstenholme gives his view of the negative local and national press coverage that Everton’s King’s Dock proposal is receiving



 CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE KINGS DOCK PROPOSAL?

 
It was interesting to see yet another "anonymous" brief against Everton FC's King’s Dock bid, this time supposedly from a Liverpool City Council insider to the Daily Mail, gleefully taken up and reported on as verbatim self-evident truth by the Daily Post. This local paper seemingly made no attempt to:
  
  • Critically evaluate the original article. 
  • Address any of the potential sources. 
  • In any way look at other sides to the story.

Instead, it simply joined in the criticism of the only locally lead bid for a site of huge local historic and economic importance – a potential future world heritage site, no less.

The sad thing is that nobody who lives in the Merseyside area or hails from there, as I do, was in the least bit surprised by this as it continues the tradition of this paper, and its sister paper the Liverpool Echo, of knocking the city, its people and its institutions whenever an opportunity arises.

Liverpool and Liverpudlians get plenty of stick from all quarters at national level with all sorts of misleading social and racial stereotypes regularly thrown in our faces – not least by our beloved Home Secretary, Jack Straw (thanks Jack!) – but you might expect a more positive slant from the local press...  By and large, both the BBC and local independent radio stations oblige (Manchester Granada is another matter) with some attempt to also address the many positives.   Sadly this seems to be an alien concept for the "journalists" at the local rags.

Now we all know this kind of story hostile to an individual bidder could quite easily be from some marginal councillor, official, or junior flunky with limited knowledge and even less power but possessing an axe to grind.  Maybe it is a Liverpool season-ticket holder worried Everton FC may get in first with something that will damage the financial viability of their own plans or, far more likely – particularly in the admittedly all-too-often-too-murky local politics of Liverpool – someone who has links to another bidder.  At the very least, there should be some serious attempt to challenge the sources, verify facts, and present an alternative viewpoint.

Sad to say for Everton, irrespective of facts, the damage gets done with these repeated negative stories.  Now I have no idea how competent Everton FC's bid for the Kings Dock site is... but they have until cira.17 Jan 2001 when the bidders are due to face English Partnerships et al. again to get it right and so suggestions that they are already out of the running in some way would, at the very least, call into serious question the nature and fairness of the whole process.

The alleged source says Everton haven't addressed transport and infrastructure issues.  Surely if the problem really is road and rail access that will be a problem to a lesser or greater extent for every proposal and it is also surely PRIMARILY a Liverpool City Council problem.  If the story in the Daily Mail has any substance it is tantamount to saying Liverpool City Council are unwilling or unable to address an existing problem by making infrastructure investments that would be of great benefit to the city as a whole so they are going to choose something easier.  Admittedly there are always financial constraints, even with the probability of EU assistance, but if this was an insurmountable problem why did Liverpool City Council invite Everton FC to bid in the first instance?  It would be at best illogical and at worst incompetent.

Everton’s consortium are offering potentially a venue that is:
  

  • World-class. 
  • Multi-purpose. 
  • Multi-use for 365 days of the year; 
  • Fully covered.

A venue that could greatly enhance Liverpool's profile world-wide, bring major international events and performers to the city and, just as importantly, provide a massive psychological boost to a city and a people who have become so used to constant negative portrayal that they have started to question their own worth.  Set against this are bids that are all mainly variations on the themes of shopping centres and/or yuppie housing with no real centrepiece or unique content that will do anything for the image of the city beyond its own limits.  There is a whole seven-mile river-fronted dock complex to build attractive water fronted flats.  The historic King's Dock should be a complex that promotes the city and its people and is of great benefit primarily to them, not the pockets of shareholders living elsewhere.

Amazingly, nobody else seems to be questioning exactly what real benefit the city will get from another central shopping district, that can only compete with and damage the existing facilities that are already being upgraded, or yet more yuppie flats.  We keep hearing about the possible draw-backs of the stadium option without any balancing debate about what the people of the city want or need and the wider social and economic context.

If nothing else the lead party in the Everton FC bid is local, 100% committed to the city.  Everton are already a positive economic asset to the city and an institution that can be relied upon to stay within Liverpool and contribute to its unique culture through good times and bad.  It is part of the fabric of the city and very important in the lives of many local inhabitants.

In contrast the other bidders are in it purely for prestige and return to the shareholders.  Their commitment to Liverpool and its people does not stretch beyond the money they can make from them.  Not to deny that Everton FC also have a financial motive, but their aim isn't to make Bill Kenwright richer it is to make Everton greater, with all the benefits that implies for Liverpool as a city.

Shouldn't someone be asking, ultimately what will be better for Liverpool as a whole and this potential world heritage site in particular:
  

  • A world class, and hopefully world famous venue?
  • Another anonymous shopping development?
  • More homes for those with more money than sense?

Another aspect I find equally surprising is that nobody seems to be asking how it has come to be that such a major decision about such an historic site will come to pass without the people of the city having any real say.  Bids will, I expect, be put on display and comments invited and, as is the norm for projects of this type, absolutely no notice will be taken of them when the anointed decision-makers get together.  Of course the local councillors have an input – as do the unelected and unaccountable "grandees" of Liverpool vision – but the ultimate decision-making power rests with a body, English Partnerships, that is an unelected quango with no roots in the city.  This might be tolerable if the councillors at least where actively canvassing public opinion but quite the opposite is happening – if the Daily Mail is to be believed – unspecified cliques drawing premature conclusions with no external input or reference to the people who elected them.

Shouldn't somebody be asking the people of Liverpool what they want; listening to what they say; and then making that the primary decision making criteria – focusing all efforts on overcoming any obstacles in the path of their stated preference?  If the people want shopping facilities or more waterside flats. then so be it – at least the decision will have been made in the right way for the right reasons.

The inherently undemocratic nature of this process and the sickening litany of leaks and negative briefings against a specific candidate reeks with the potential for cronyism and corruption.  I've been living in hope that someone in the local papers would actually make the attempt at worthwhile investigative journalism into this matter but it is becoming obvious that this won't happen.  Perhaps the BBC with its traditions of independence and objectivity may like to take a look at the issues surrounding the conduct of this process, the by-passing of effective local democracy and the need for the people of Liverpool to be given a real say in something that could fundamentally affect the future of the city for years to come.

There seems to me a pressing need for someone to start banging the drum long and hard on these issues.

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