Westbridge Park viewpoint: Richard Stevens
In an interview on Radio Stoke last week, the chairman of Stone Food and Drink Festival said that the borough council’s plan for Westbridge Park puts the future of the festival at risk. Here, Richard Stevens explains why he believes this is the case – and why a supermarket on the park is bad for the town as a whole
The Westbridge Park consultation leaflet which is being delivered to every house in the town is dangerously misleading but I will leave it others to point out the numerous inaccuracies. Save one – it cannot be disputed that the area designated for events is substantially smaller than the area needed to run the annual Food and Drink Festival. I pointed this fact out on Twitter and said so during an interview on Radio Stoke. That seems to have hit a raw nerve with some folk who have suggested that I am ‘blackmailing’ the council because I am opposed to a supermarket.
So let me set out my position. It is simple. I am passionate about our town and proud of our Food and Drink Festival.
I believe that another supermarket in or near the town will take business out of the High Street and place many of our existing traders at risk. I do not accept the argument that shoppers at a new supermarket will walk into town. That argument was used when a new Tesco was built in Longton – look at Longton Market, The Strand and the Bennett Precinct now. So yes, I am opposed to a new supermarket in Stone but for what I consider to be good reasons. But this has not coloured my comments about the reduction in size of the ‘event’ space.
Stone Food and Drink Festival is now in its ninth year. It is run entirely by volunteers. No one is paid a penny in salary or dividends. Any profit is required by law to be retained to promote future Festivals. Over the years, literally hundreds of volunteers have given their time and labours to create what is now a hugely successful Festival attracting visitors from across the country. It has been independently assessed that the Festival generates an additional spend of half a million pounds in Stone – a huge boost to the local economy. And a survey of all the local shops and businesses in the town after last year’s Festival showed that 97% welcomed the Festival as being beneficial to the town’s economy.
Last year we used every single square inch of the park that was available to us. (The Borough Council strictly prohibits us from encroaching upon any part of the football pitch). Anyone who attended the Festival, particularly on the Saturday, will surely understand why I say that we could not have put the Festival on a smaller footprint. Could we use the football pitch? No – the Borough Council have always imposed a very strict prohibition. Could we use the Southern Meadow? No – this is always very damp and subject to flooding (as witness the last few months). Other venues? Several have been mentioned but none would be suitable. This is a town event organised for the benefit of the town, its businesses and residents.
Could we organise a mini Food Festival to fit a smaller footprint? The costs would be much the same (we’d still need marquees, generators, fencing, toilets, temporary roadways, demonstration kitchen audio visual equipment, security guards etc.) but would obviously have to place a limit on the numbers who could be admitted which would make the event unsustainable. And I doubt that our sponsors would be happy supporting a much smaller event.
So that is why I consider that the future of the Festival is under threat from the proposals to develop Westbridge Park. Of course, these are my own views but I am aware that my colleagues are in general agreement with me. However, we shall soon hold a formal meeting of the Festival committee and will then notify the Borough Council of our considered response as part of their consultation exercise.
See all of A Little Bit of Stone’s Westbridge Park coverage HERE
Click HERE to see the borough council’s plan for Westbridge Park
Click HERE to take part in the consultation on the borough council website