Saturday 19 February 2011

Up to Town...

Photograph by Frank Kainrath
Here's the heart of the town...the old church of Santiago...St. James. But it has known better days.

Built on a site riddled with subterranean streams and shaken by the big earthquake here in the 1990s it has been abandoned for a modern church at the entrance to the town and the council has periodically come up with plans for the site, each one worse than the last, starting with a plan for total demolition to provide a car park (!) and ending with a plan to keep part of the nave, close off the street behind, purchase half the block behind that and put up a metal and glass 'cultural centre'.

This is a council which makes you appreciative of the workings of Divine Providence in not placing whelks in the seas bordering Costa Rica....otherwise the council would inevitably have demonstrated its inability to run a whelk stall...and understanding of the provisions of central government that all brewing be a state monopoly....thus preventing the council from proving that it could not run a piss up in a brewery.

Since neither Divine Providence nor central government foresaw rural development, the council is fully able to show its inability to either build or maintain roads by which such development might be reached so, as one can imagine, the project to spend vast amounts of money on an eyesore was regarded as the last straw by most of the citizens.

Still, undeterred by public opinion ....what would that matter, the council was in post for another year by which time the plans would have been fixed...the council ploughed ahead with the full support of the Catholic Church,  a perimeter fence was put up and all the beautiful trees surrounding the church cut down.

There was considerable opposition, but people aren't accustomed, here, to starting media campaigns...not much media to campaign in after all,  or to organise  and fund raise, but the council managed, in its cack handed way, to rally the opposition by keeping quiet about the demolition order it had obtained from the appropriate ministry while pretending to have open debate.

When news of that leaked out people who had been grumbling started to see what action they could take...and a couple of women came up with the master stroke.
At one of the regular Tuesday evening meetings when aggrieved citizens can bring their complaints before the deaf ears of the council the ladies asked what was the state of play about the new cultural centre project.

Oh, it was going ahead...there were plans to have a competition to choose the architect...everything was fine.

There's just one problem.


When you obtained the demolition order, you had to state who owned the land?

Of course.

And did you check the National Land Registry?

No need...everyone knows...

That the land the church was built on was given to...not you, not the council, not the Church, either.....
It was given to the people of the area. It belongs to us. And unless we consent you can't go ahead.

But we represent you.....

See if a court agrees.

Aware that courts tend to view local government with scant respect, so far the council has taken no action....the church is still there....and the heat generated has dissipated.

No doubt the new council...same party, different faces...will find a way round this but one thing is sure, they will never be able to persuade the elderly gentlemen that a cultural centre of metal and glass will be a success...

You'll never get a bull in there....


  1. Alas, you will be amazed at how much bull a council can get into even the most smallest of spaces...

  2. Politicians and local councillors, the same the world over!

  3. Steve, now is your chance to apply for an EU funded post to advise Costa Rican councils on bull....

    Sarah, wherever they thought the money was coming from for this project is beyond everyone...the new mayor has just put a hearts and flowers announcement in the town rag saying that because of all the people claiming damages through the Constitutional Court for storm water damage...down to council engineer's incompetence...the council cannot go ahead with important works....ho hum...he has a choice.
    Get them done or go to jug.

  4. Great story Fly. Amusing and worrying both. As you say here to Sarah - where did he think he was going to get the money from, or by what spurious means?

    Was the 'Loire' part really that tiresome Fly?!

  5. Phil, this council is always coming up with huge projects, getting government funding and then not doing anything with the money which oozes away imperceptibly.

    Central government has now stopped this way of financing projects...but the council had not caught up with the new realities.

    I had lots of happy years in France, Phil, but I'm far from blind to the problems.
    I suppose I emphasise them more than most bloggers about France because politics matters to the wide sense...and because I think that there are lot of rose coloured spectacles in use which mislead people thinking of moving to France permanently.

  6. Councils and building projects - not the best combination generally. The architectural legacy of middle England is testimony to that. Chippenham high street, near where I live half the time, used to be known as little Bath - instead we now have seventies and eighties shop developments that are already falling apart and we wonder whey other towns attract the better stores.

  7. Mark, you should see the mess that French planning has made of wonderful old towns!
    I wonder if those deciding on these projects have been compulsorarily blinded previously...

  8. Greetings, Fly. I am just catching up on posts...As to where money for projects "mysteriously" goes, the pols line their pockets...

  9. I'm still jealous of where you and Mr. Fly live though.......
    I once pitched an idea to Charles Moore about driving around South America with my sister and writing it up. He was all for it! Must dash children are screaming again....must solve alpaca needling kit bought from Askerton Castle north of Brampton...for daughter...

  10. e, hope you're feeling better.
    Yes, just about everywhere it seems...sad isn't it?

    Hadriana's Treasures, what a pity you didn't find the time to do it!
    Yes, I'm quite chuffed with where we are...delightful to be able to have cinema, theatre, libraries and shops just one hour away by bus, but live in a quiet valley...and be warm!