A fortnight ago Luton Borough Council issued a press release that included a blatant attempt to rewrite history.
Al-right, they weren’t attempting to claim that it was Harold who won the Battle of Hastings, that Henry VIII was a loyal and faithful husband, or that Genghis Khan was a meek and mild mannered sort of chap. It was a much more minor matter of limited local interest, but it was extremely irritating to members of Luton Liberal Democrats.
The main purpose of the press release was to announce that work will soon begin on improvements to the public space outside the front of the Town Hall around the war memorial. This is, obviously, good news and I welcome it. However, the press release included this line;
“Work in the Town Hall Square will begin in mid-March and see new paving to complement that used during the regeneration of St George’s Square two years ago.”
And a quote from Labour councillor Roy Davis who says;
“We initially wanted to enhance the Town Hall Square at the same time as our award-winning regeneration of St George’s Square two years ago. Then it was decided to wait until the £20 million extension to The Mall had been completed first.”
The press release couldn’t be clearer – the regeneration of St George’s Square was completed in 2009.
Except that it wasn’t.
The truth is that the plans to completely rebuild St. George’s Square were first drawn up by the then Liberal Democrat administration in October 2004. Money was found from the Government’s Liveability fund, the European Regional Development Fund, and the Council’s own resources. Work was started early in 2006. I remember that the project did overrun a little but it was finished in time for an official opening early in 2007 and certainly ready to be used for Luton’s first Summer Festival later that year.
Now there have been quite a lot of changes in staff in the LBC press office since the Square was completed in 2007. So it is very possible that whoever issued this press release wasn’t around at the time. Yet to get the completion date of one of the town’s most significant regeneration projects wrong by a whole two years is very sloppy. A little fact checking wouldn’t go amiss.
Yet what I find extraordinary is the quote from Cllr Davis which repeats the error of the date of the opening of the new square as he most definitely was around at the time. I know this because I remember him making frequent criticisms of the project and how the Liberal Democrat administration were managing it. Although I don’t think he went quite as far as the current Labour leader of the council Hazel Simmons who once said at a meeting of the council that she “preferred the old square”.
It is true that a decision was taken that the area around the front of the Town Hall should be renewed in the same style as the Square, and that since any work done then would almost certainly have been damaged by the construction of the new extension to the The Mall shopping centre it was decided that this part of the project should be delayed until the extension was complete. What Cllr Davis fails to mention though is that the “We” who wanted to enhance the Town Hall Square at the same time as St George’s Square but decided to wait until the extension to The Mall had been completed was the 2003-2007 Liberal Democrat administration.
Those of us who were involved in this project at the time are extremely proud of what we achieved for our town. The new Square has been a huge improvement and thoroughly deserves the awards it has received. So you can understand that it can piss you off somewhat when others attempt to take the credit.
We did complain and it appears the version of the press release on the Council’s website has now been rewritten – resulting in some rather clunky sentences.
It was common in Russia under soviet communism for history books to be rewritten to portray a story that was more palatable to those in power. Now I am not sure whether I really want to compare myself with Trotsky, but since this press release was issued I think I may have got an inkling of how he felt when he was airbrushed out of all those photographs.
This content was originally posted on my old Strange Thoughts blog.