There's a bit of drama in Bury St Edmunds this week. It's all centred on the historic Corn Exchange, a public building used, till now for the odd gig or antique show. Now that our brand new public venue is open it's time to dispose of the Corn Exchange.
There are two bids. One is from a social enterprise called Abbeycroft who want to turn the Corn Exchange into a town-centre play-centre for children and have lots of indepdendent outlets selling stuff. The other is from Wetherspoons who want to turn it into a huge boozer selling pints for one-fifty and all-day breakfasts for a quid.
Amazingly, Abbeycroft is still in the game. It's down to these two and, as I speak, the public debate is going on down there now - the consultation closes today. Wetherspoons have sent in an extravagent bid that promises to restore the Exchange to its former glory. How glorious we'll find their all-day-breakfasts splattered all over our pavements on a Sunday morning I don't know, but they are offering silly money to a council that hasn't got any.
Abbeycroft meanwhile have a secret weapon. Or rather two. One is that they are a spin-out from the Council. They run all our leisure services and enjoy high respect in the area. Even I, a former health-club member, use their spotless facilities and find them to be everything they weren't when part of the council.
The other secret weapon is Norman Tebbit. Yes, the old bastard now lives in Bury and is a totemic figure for the massed-elderly in Bury who love the place how it used to be. Who opposed our new shopping centre (and, yes, it is shite) and who stop every single nightclub application. This cadre of Tory-voting stick-wavers is jab-jabbing away at local councillors. They point to Wetherspoons killing the cafe-culture of the town (true). The threat to other businesses in the town (also true). They get Norman to go apeshit in the local paper about the town becoming the place in West Suffolk to get off your tits for under a tenner (at the moment the yobs stay in Brandon, Thetford and Mildenhall because Bury so dear).
And you know what? I feel grateful Norman and the gang. On this one, they are right. I don't want Bury's traders to be fucked-over by Wetherspoons. I don't want the town to be like Newcastle on a Friday night with fighting and cops everywhere. And I certainly don't want slip in sick when I pick up my Sunday paper. Bury is a nice place - let's keep it so.
In addition, I like the Abbeycroft idea. It's different. It's about people. Let's give it a try.