The borough council’s vision for a new leisure centre with swimming pool at Westbridge Park will not be realised unless a supermarket is part of any future development. That was the message from council leader Mike Heenan at a special meeting of Stone Town Council’s General Purposes Committee held at Alleyne’s High School on Tuesday 20th November.
Hundreds of people packed the main hall at the Oulton Road school to hear a presentation from Cllr Heenan, the borough council’s head of planning and regeneration Ted Manders and Adam Hill, the council’s head of leisure. Borough council deputy leader and leisure portfolio holder Cllr Mike Smith and planning and regeneration portfolio lead Cllr Frances Beatty were also present.
It was standing room only, with people crowded at the back of the hall and in the corridor running alongside it. There must have been over 300 local people who turned out – and all made it very clear over the course of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting that they don’t want a supermarket on Westbridge Park.
However, borough council leader Cllr Mike Heenan told them: “The only way to build a large enough leisure centre is to go in with a food operator. Whether we like it or not there are supermarkets circling Stone at the moment. They want to move into Stone.”
Ted Manders, the borough council’s head of planning and regeneration, earlier told the meeting that there had been interest from “all main food retailers to come to Stone”. Cllr Heenan said that the borough council was ready to put a “big amount” of capital funding into new leisure facilities in Stone – but that that alone would not be enough.
Cllr Heenan and the borough council officers were keen to state that there was no firm proposal for a supermarket and that no firm offers had been received from any. He urged people in Stone to take part in the upcoming consultation on the borough council’s leisure strategy for the town that will get under way in the New Year.
The leisure strategy sets out the borough council’s vision for leisure in Stone. You can see the full strategy HERE. In essence, it states that the ideal solution for the town would be a brand new leisure centre on Westbridge Park with 25m swimming pool, as well as new play areas. It is this document that the people of Stone will be consulted on in the New Year. Adam Hill, the borough council’s head of leisure, said that existing facilities were coming to the end of their useful lives and were inefficient and expensive to operate.
Ted Manders, the borough council’s head of planning and regeneration, said that there are a number of alternative sites for a new leisure centre, including at Tilling Drive. He also revealed that local doctors had expressed an interest in a new health centre close to the town centre, with Westbridge Park identified as a possible location.
He talked about the Stafford Borough Local Plan and its implications for Stone, including on housing (800 new homes over the next 2o years) and employment land. It was the Local Plan that identified Westbridge Park as a site for mixed-use development.
The Local Plan – which guides development across the borough over the next 20 years – goes before Stafford Borough Council on Tuesday 27th November for approval before it is submitted to Government inspectors for public examination next summer. The document has been changed ahead of the council meeting on Tuesday to add a new paragraph into the section on Stone, which states that “there will be a need for new supermarket provision in Stone by 2015”.
Local town councillors had their say and asked questions of Stafford Borough Council’s representatives before the meeting of Stone Town Council was officially ended and questions were accepted from members of the public. Concerns were raised about Westbridge Park being on a flood plain, the impact of a supermarket on traders in the town centre, what had happened to the wooden play area at Westbridge Park (it was unsafe and was removed – it hasn’t been replaced because of the upcoming leisure consultation said Adam Hill) and many other issues. Every member of the public who spoke was against the idea of a supermarket, apart from one member of the public who said that if there had to be a supermarket on Westbridge Park then it should be Waitrose
Towards the end of the meeting, local Scout leader Chris Barlow made his point by handing over a poster that had been made by his young Cubs that showed their reasons for Keeping Westbridge Park Green. Titled ‘Hands off Westbridge: Our Park’ the cubs had put their reasons for wanting to keep the park green in a number of cut-out hands.
The choice for local people set out at the meeting was very clear: the price to pay for the borough council’s vision for leisure and recreation facilities on Westbridge Park is a supermarket on the site as part of the development. That will be the choice that people in Stone will have to make in the leisure strategy consultation in the New Year. And if the evidence of the public reaction at the meeting is anything to go by, it will be a resounding no.
Earlier in the meeting, town councillor Rob Kenney – who started the Keep Westbridge Park Green campaign – called on the town council to “fight any proposal from the borough council or any developer for a supermarket or any retail development”. An amendment was tabled, asking councillors to defer this decision until after the facts had been heard. This amendment was carried and Cllr Philip Jones, the chair of the General Purposes Committee, told the meeting it would be considered at a future meeting. Eleven town councillors voted for the amendment (to delay the vote), six voted against and there was one abstention.