In simple terms where the cricket club now is there will be a University devoted to football. There will also be the Stadiarena, the development of the Weavers Triangle as student housing, and development of the part of the canal that links the Triangle to the stadium, and finally restoration of the Todmorden section of rail track that links Burnley to Manchester. Bold, brash and big, imaginative and innovative, exciting and creative, all of it is ‘thinking outside the box’. The world needs people who can dream and think of schemes that will benefit the rest of us. It is reasonable to say that Paul Fletcher is such a person. Some may work, some may not, but without visions and dreams, we wouldn’t be where we are today. No dream should be knocked for the sake of it. Some may well be pie-in-the-sky, maybe the Premier Plan is, but some ideas will come true and if there is a small group of people who can make them come true, people who make things happen, then good luck to them.
Inevitably what came up on the website was big on ideas and visions, but thin on detail. If there was one question that shouted out all the time I read it, it was “how” will these plans happen, what about the nuts and bolts? At the moment there are no nuts and bolts and the plans have to be seen for what they are – dreams, visions and ambitions.
Eventually I got to thinking. Experts reckon that to get any project off the ground you need a group of people, though I dread the word, in effect, a committee. Those experts reckon that you need someone with the ideas (maybe that is Fletch), someone to take the role of fixer (maybe that is Flood) and then someone to come up with all the problems, and think of the “what if” and the “ah but” scenarios that will inevitably crop up along the way. I think they’re called accountants.
People used to tell me in my other life that I was good at asking “what if” and finding obstacles although I never knew if it was a compliment or not. In my little school I had some good staff brimming with ideas but it was always me who had to say, “Well Ok that’s great, but where’s the money coming from?” “Miserable bugger,” I used to hear them mutter behind the staff room door when I listened through the keyhole. Then I used to ask, “And which of you will actually do this?” Usually there was a deathly silence. If they opened the door when I was listening, of course it was terribly embarrassing and I’d pretend to be fixing a hinge.
Perhaps I am being a miserable bugger now once again, when I begin to stack up the odds against these Premier Plans ever happening, bold though they are. First of all from what sketchy information we have, we have no idea just how deeply this has been thought out. “We’ve done some research,” says the write-up. There’s a lovely generic term for all these ideas. “Blue sky thinking,” it’s known as, and these are plans and visions that are dreamed up where in an ideal world they might one day come true. Dave Edmundson did eventually drive through the Jimmy Mac void plans so things do happen. Things are never impossible. But is the Premier Plan just blue-sky thinking? Until we hear facts and concrete figures, and news of investors, subsidies and grants and funding then it can only be fanciful. Talks have been held with Liverpool John Moores University regarding the football university but just how deeply is the Cricket Club involved so far in the plans that have been revealed? According to the local Press they still await firm proposals from the club. It will take something substantial to get them to move and no one has the God given right to expect them to relocate. Nothing can ever happen without their say-so and they have a historic tradition just like the football club.
In Disneyland people who dream up ideas for plots and films and theme park projects come under the heading “Imagineers,” a name that someone dreamed up. Their job is (surprise, surprise) “imagineering” and without them Disney would die. Some of the things they come up with are improbable and unworkable but nevertheless every now and then they come up with something that is feasible. Methinks that the Premier Plan is very much “imagineering.”
I read through what information there was on the website and thought immediately of ‘Elevate’, the programme to improve Burnley (total budget when last heard of £103million) that has been on the go for a few years. How much has it achieved? Two people were brought in to dream things up to re-invent the area. Their visions too included the Weavers Triangle, the Canal, plus building a Fashion Tower/textile museum as a sort of cultural and tourist rallying point. Then there were ideas for new parks, public squares, and attracting new commuters. Re-instating the rail link to Manchester has come up many times. Somewhere in the back of my head I also seem to think they had a proposal for something that was football related. The two “imagineers”, Anthony Wilson and Yvette Livesey proposed that the whole area should be rebranded as Pennine Lancashire to be known as PL in the same way that Los Angeles is known by the unmistakeable brand-name LA. Someone very unkindly suggested that their achievements amounted so far to FA.
Just how many plans have there been to do something with the Weavers Triangle? Back in 2006 a £50million plan was unveiled with outline plans submitted by Hurtswood Developments. Someone remarked it should be renamed the Bermuda Triangle because so many plans for it have vanished. And here comes the latest - that it should incorporate student housing for the new Football University. The Football University meanwhile will now be sited on the Cricket Club site. This, under the last batch of Turf Moor plans, of not very long ago, was earmarked for a community multi sports facility incorporating the cricket club and a new pavilion – or am I imagineering that? Wasn’t it part of plans revealed in 2007 under the name Burnley Sports and Leisure Village? Without the recession they would all have been completed by the summer of 2010. These plans too were ambitious and bold; we were thrilled at the prospects of wonderful new community facilities, stands, cinemas, business areas, restaurants, plus an academy at Gawthorpe.
Perhaps these new plans should have been kept under wraps until there was more detail to provide or until someone can say, “Work starts tomorrow.” Laudable and creative though they are, as a result of the lack of any detail, nobody is convinced by them, and the greatest response has been one of scepticism. The last set of 2007 proposals has already been ditched. Is it any wonder that people simply say - “well, what happened to the last plans?” Perhaps people have learned to be wary of nice pictures.
Personally, though the campus looks very smart on a pdf, I don’t think a university has a cat in hell’s chance; the first plan for a multi sports leisure centre was far better. But I do believe the stadiarena can work. Once built, get the right calibre of people with the vision to market and promote it, (not forgetting the parking) and the varied events it can hold will surely arrive. The university I am less convinced until I hear a lot, lot more about it in terms of facilities, costings, partnerships, facts, figures, staffing, the design of courses, and funding. Just how big will it be? How many students? It’s all very well to say “we’ve done some research” but the mechanics of setting something up on this scale and finding suitable specialist (very)staff, are absolutely vast and the time-scale quite daunting.
In my other life I never ever knocked other peoples’ plans and ideas for the sake of it; let’s face it, there was a time when only Columbus thought you could sail without one day falling off the edge of the world, until off he toddled and did it. But what I did have to do was look at the pros and cons and weigh up the practical and financial possibilities of anything actually happening. Sometimes I had to say, “Come back with more details”. Regarding the Turf Moor University, that is what I would be saying. Regarding the Stadiarena I’d be saying, “Go ahead, this can work – IF – and only IF, you get the right people with flair to run it.”
And one final suggestion (with my old miserable-git headteacher’s hat on); please don’t dazzle us and raise our hopes with exciting plans like these, until you can say: “And work definitely starts tomorrow.” We all got very excited in 2007 and as far as I know, not one brick has been laid.
Dave Thomas February 10th 2010