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Inside Politics with Michael Wilkinson: A Trojan horse rides into Gloucester

By citizenmike  |  Posted: January 08, 2014

Inside Politics with Michael Wilkinson

Each week, public affairs reporter Michael Wilkinson takes a stroll down the corridors of power.

WHEN the Trojans pulled a large wooden horse into the city of Troy as a victory trophy, little did they know that a hidden force of Greek men were hiding inside.

Overnight they crept out, opened the gates of Troy and in flooded the rest of the Greek army. The city of Troy was destroyed, ending a 10-year siege once and for all.

There are fears that Gloucester may be about to pull in its own Trojan horse – at the Peel Centre.

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Only this could be less of a myth and more of a reality.

Passing almost unbeknown to most this week was a planning application to convert the usage of two empty units at the Peel Centre to allow well, er, basically anything to be sold, including food, drink, toys, perfumes and toiletries.

Peel, owners of Gloucester Quays, are the applicants but they claim it is for a new Home Bargains store which would open between Hobbycraft and Gala Bingo.

They dangled the cherry of 60 new jobs but astute planning officers say that the household chain could sit quite comfortably in the old M&S unit in Northgate Street and for that reason the plan should be refused as it could detract from our city centre.

But, wait! Hear the cries of Peel: “That M&S store is far too large for what Home Bargains needs.”

Is it? The marketing details show the unit has 1854 sq m of shop floor space, compared to 2,300 sq m at the two units at the Peel Centre.

Obviously not too large then.

Still, who are we to say where Home Bargains choose to operate their business?

“Let them have the Peel Centre” councillors at Gloucester City Council’s planning committee conceded on Tuesday night.

But then the Trojan horse was revealed!

City councillor Jeremy Hilton (LD, Kingsholm and Wotton) said: “This application is by Peel, not by Home Bargains. Allowing this change of use, we could see whole the city centre shift down south. Don’t forget, Peel own a lot of land down there. Home Bargains could be a Trojan horse and we have got to be very careful.”

Peel have long argued that they strive to connect Gloucester Quays to the city centre – and there is evidence of that.

But while there’s a fridge magnet sized appeal to lurch toward the city centre, there’s an industrial size attraction in the opposite direction. Peel owns vast swathes of land beyond the Peel Centre and that old cinema site is ripe for redevelopment.

Who can blame them for wanting to push ahead with their ambitious plans?

And should we really see this as a Trojan horse? They are after all one of the few that have not only shown an interest in investing in Gloucester but actually doing it.

That takes me nicely onto the subject of King’s Quarter and developers Stanhope, perhaps better known as Stan-hopeless.

City councillor Nigel Hanman (C, Grange) put it aptly: “I have been a councillor for 11 years and King’s Quarter has been talked about for all that time and if I were to be a councillor for another 11 years we’d still be talking about it. Talk of it taking five years has gone out the bloody window.”

When Stanhope first emerged you couldn’t keep them quiet. There were fancy artist impressions of the big vision.

Now it has gone deathly quiet and the most exciting event of 2014 is said to be so-called archaeological surveys that are to take place in the square.

You won’t find your anchor store underground – but you might find it at the Peel Centre, next to the Trojan horse.

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