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Tuesday 5 November 2013

Response to Ben Locker

Dear Ben

Thank you for taking the trouble to reply to my comments about recent developments with Jumbo.

Just to clear things up, I used this blog to speak for myself in my role with but not for BWTAS. Some of our members have bought and converted towers for themselves and most of them did it for romantic, creative reasons and I expect many would vow never again. Owning a water tower seems to be a short cut to madness and financial ruin.

I examined the evidence for Braithwaite's assertion it was a political decision (BBC Look East) along with all the Torys voting for and other parties against. I don't assert (nor actually agree) it was a political decision. The Gazette's live blog mentioned Bob Russell's interjection and that it was overruled. To think every one of them voted because being pro to his development is a Tory position and any objection is anti-Tory is absurd.

But I am saying the question of politics was brought into the debate by Braithwaite's assertion the decision was merely political combined with his permitting political banners on Jumbo - and to some extent Darius Laws identifying himself as a 'political activist'. I would draw the conclusion regardless of what party's banner hung there and certainly I don't assert Tories are evil. Some of my best friends are. IF it wasn't a political decison, Braithwaite didn't create it. IF it was, then look at what might have made it so.

I am not ascribing party political actions to your and Law's campaign, I was asking if you were or not. Appearances matching a certain stereotype indicated you were. I know you appreciate I want this debate to be friendly. If I went too far I was riffing on a theme.

You and Darius have since cleared up by twitter that your passion for Jumbo is independent of the owner. How did the banner get on Jumbo? Darius takes credit for that. Just for full disclosure; Brian Light is a member of BWTAS. George Braithwaite was offered honorary BWTAS membership. If I recall an invitation to join and to meet and discuss access to Jumbo was sent in 2006 to him without response.

You skirted the questions if whether the museum proposal was merely a sop to the objectors. A desperate or deeply Machiavellian move? Or genuine generous altruism? You tell me what you think.

I don't see how the BTT's past or recent finances have any relevance. They or anyone else obviously cannot raise anything until they have possession or agreement on a means to obtain it. I am not privy to any inside information but at the 2006 auction (which I covered as a reporter) they dropped out of the bidding when it got to six figures. When the auction was announced at very short notice, Brian Light (I think his charity was formed later) raised a very considerable amount of money. I recall one supporter turning up and pledging him another £50,000 on the day but it wasn't enough. If I recall the BTT arose out of deep frustration for a prior developer not doing anything with Jumbo but letting it decay, much the same motivation you have. The BTT didn't exist when Jumbo first came on the market but if it had then, it could have bought it with what it raised later. By now we could be asking how do we refresh a tired museum everyone's been to. I feel sorry for Colchester and people who have spent 27 years trying to put Jumbo to good use. Jumbo is unique and its potential benefit is not constrained to Colchester but a much wider area.

You and Laws keep asserting the delays as justification for action. I assert that's not a valid reason as the cause of the delay is the developer's choice not to entertain sensible feasible offers.

You could demolish Jumbo and get £500,000 for the reclaimed bricks, they are 90p each on eBay. Then millions for the land? It's the varying weather vane of its potential returns that causes the value of Jumbo to rise and fall. The wind that blows that weather vane is the political makeup of the planning committee, confidence of banks and developers and the quality of the development proposals before it. Without planning permission its value as a security was rated at zero.

If you bought shares in a fast rising company expecting them to rise further but they in fact fell in value and then someone offered to take them off your hands for a rock bottom price, planning to salvage it as a downscaled but viable company with some further investment; you say that's unacceptable and deeply unfair. If you bet the wrong way on the market, are you entitled to a refund? Are you a capitalist or not? What options does BTT have? I would love know of some mechanism which would conjure up the £330,000 the owner needs to walk away without saddling the operator with unserviceable debt but we've missed the window for packaging up some mortgage backed securities.

You pick over the plans BTT proposed a long time ago when the nanosecond of opportunity to buy Jumbo was before them. I myself would present some different plans for Jumbo and I can see - from examples all around the world - there are many ways to exploit a property like Jumbo and yet be a good neighbour and maintain its heritage and cultural value, which I consider is utterly dependent on it remaining more intact than Braithwaite's current plan. But to offer them for discussion now would be commercially unwise. Would you publish your 'restaurant in the sky' recipes and wine list before you've hired your chef? Would show your client's competitor your pitch?

You sincerely don’t believe it’s possible to rescue Jumbo intact - I sincerely believe it is as I've seen it done. Somewhere there is common ground. Let's keep everyone working towards it.

I think it will be wearisome for our members if we continue to ping-pong point and counterpoint via our respective blogs but I am happy to respond to further developments as this story becomes part of the rich culture and history of water towers. 

I look forward to hearing if the council will promote an alternative approach. The BTT have invited round-table discussions. Let's hope some movement happens and when it does, we can be on hand to present our analysis. Our differences of opinion serves people to make up their own minds.

Nat Bocking

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