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Changes to retail plan for Stone under fire

Westbridge Park

The scene at Stafford Borough Council for the Local Plan examination today

Last-minute changes to plans for retail development in Stone came in for fierce criticism at the public examination of the borough Local Plan.

Stafford Borough Council’s Local Plan – the documents that sets out where new housing, retail and employment space should be sited over the next couple of decades – was submitted to the Secretary of State in the summer and is now being examined by independent planning inspector Stephen Pratt. He will make a decision on whether the Plan is sound – or if elements of it need to change.

The examination has been taking place since 23rd October at Stafford Borough Council’s headquarters and, on the afternoon of 29th October, it was the turn of Stone Town.

Unsurprisingly, Westbridge Park and the issue of new retail floorspace in Stone dominated the meeting.

Stafford Borough Council made a number of late changes to their plans for Stone Town and Westbridge Park:

  1. The town centre boundary was extended to incorporate land at Westbridge Park, Morrison’s car park and Crown Wharf – and the land at Westbridge Park was removed from the ‘green infrastructure’ boundary
  2. The term ‘mixed-use development’ for Westbridge Park was removed and a more specific description included: “leisure, community facilities and retail provision (not to include residential) on that part of Westbridge Park within the town centre boundary”
  3. The criteria for retail space was changed – up from 1,400 to 1,700 sq metres of new food retail space; and down from 2,200 to 400 sq metres of non-food retail space

These changes – at such a late stage of the process – came in for close scrutiny from the inspector – and fierce criticism from many of the parties around the table.

Local Plan

Independent inspector Stephen Pratt

The borough council want to include these changes in the Local Plan as ‘minor modifications’ – the inspector said, however, that they could be seen as ‘major modifications’, which would then need further consultation.

Peter Weatherhead for Keep Westbridge Park Green said: “These are substantial, major changes that should have been the subject of consultation. The Local Plan for Stone is fundamentally changed by them and they could have been introduced much earlier.”

Paul Baukhar from Stafford Borough Council said there was a need – demonstrated by evidence – that Stone needed another supermarket. He cited a town centre assessment carried out in 2011 – and updated earlier this year – that showed “significant overtrading” at Morrisons supermarket. He said that 20% of the local Stone population drive to Stafford to do their main food shopping, with 10% heading for Stoke-on-Trent. He said the council is recommending one new supermarket for Stone – “slightly bigger than the Aldi on the A34″ – and that all the evidence points to Westbridge Park as the best location.

Peter Weatherhead for Keep Westbridge Park Green responded by saying that the evidence base does not support the council’s proposal for Westbridge Park to be identified as the site for a supermarket. He said there is no “unacceptable level of overtrading” at Morrisons, adding: “The evidence base does not support allocation at Westbridge Park.”

The issue of whether the borough council has already allocated Westbridge Park as a site for retail development was a major sticking point between the borough council, Keep Westbridge Park Green and others.

Tony Aspbury for Trent Vision Trust, which wants to develop land off the Fillybrooks, said: “It is inappropriate and not good practice to be allocating a site at this stage of the process. It is premature and does not allow proper debate of all potential sites in the town for retail development. There is a simple solution – the council should remove this level of detail from the Local Plan. We can then have a proper debate about where the 1,700 sq metres of food retail space should be sited.”

The inspector challenged the borough council directly on this. He asked them – and called it the “killer question – “What would be the impact on the Plan if the use for Westbridge Park was expunged and dealt with at a later stage?”

David Smethurst from the council said: “The Local Plan needs a town centre boundary. This is not an allocation – it’s a movement of the boundary. We should have made these changes earlier, but we’re not trying to conceal anything or to push anything through.”

There’s a summary of other points and issues from the meeting below – and I’ve tried to give as full an account as possible. But you can also listen to the examination yourself. The recording is in two parts, and I’ve included rough timings for different speakers so you can zone in on what you’d like to listen to.

Here’s Part 1…

[Click HERE to listen to the audio if you can't see the audio player above]

… and a rough list of timings:

Start – Introduction by inspector / summary from Stafford Borough Council and questions from inspector

39:45 – Peter Weatherhead for Keep Westbridge Park Green

48:00 – Local resident Mr Kaut

52:10 – Local resident Robert Jones

54:25 – Local resident Jonathan Heald

1:09:10 – Local resident Richard Evans

1:12:20 – Robert Luscombe from the Inland Waterways Association

1:19:40 – Tony Aspbury from Trent Vision Trust

And here’s Part 2…

[Click HERE to listen to the audio if you can't see the audio player above]

… and a list of rough timings:

Start – Jane Field from the Environment Agency

13:00 – Stafford Borough Council’s response to points raised by interested parties

32:20 – Peter Weatherhead for Keep Westbridge Park Green

47:30 – Ian Fordham from Keep Westbridge Park Green

51:05 – Local resident Robert Jones

53:20 – Local resident Jonathan Heald

55:50 – Dr M Bell

1:02:30 - Robert Luscombe from the Inland Waterways Association

1:10:00 – Environment Agency representatives

1:15:50 – Final questions from the inspector to the borough council

1:22:45 – What happens next? Closing remarks from the inspector

Lots of points were made at the examination. Here’s a summary…

Stone resident Jonathan Heald hit out at the borough council over their artists’ impressions of a supermarket on Westbridge Park, saying one was “completely dishonest”. He said a supermarket on Westbridge Park would be a blot on the landscape and ruin the green vista. He also said he was concerned at the lack of discussion during the examination on the impact of new retail development in Stone on the High Street

Robert Luscombe from the Inland Waterways Association said: “Seven thousand boats pass through Stone every year. Building a food store at Westbridge Park detracts from the town centre. Boaters will use the supermarket and not go into the town. And it won’t make the canal in Stone more attractive. We would support retail development at Crown Wharf, which would open up a gateway between the canal and the High Street and greatly benefit the town.”

He expressed his disappointment that any impact on the canal in Stone would only be addressed as part of any future planning applications, saying: “There doesn’t appear to be a strategy for strengthening Stone’s links with the canal, rather a very piecemeal approach.”

Stone resident Richard Evans, who is in favour of the borough council’s idea of development at Westbridge Park, said that Morrisons is trading at levels close to the Tesco in Stafford, a much larger supermarket. He also flagged up Stone’s population growth, which had grown by 15.8% between 1991 and 2001, and another 12% by 2011 – significantly above the national average – and showing the need for new facilities and resources in the town.

Flood risk at Westbridge Park was another hot topic on the day. Resident Robert Jones highlighted the need to raise the level of Westbridge Park for any building work to alleviate flood risk. A representative from the Environment Agency said that development on Westbridge Park was “technically viable” but that a full flood risk assessment would be needed as part of any future planning application. She added that “flood warning measures” would have to be looked at in consultation with the Staffordshire civil contingencies unit.

The new leisure facilities for Westbridge Park – which the borough council hope would be funded by a supermarket moving on to the site – were covered. The borough council said that its consultation on its leisure strategy was not part of the Local Plan process but was a separate initiative. Dr M Bell said that “ample money could be generated elsewhere to fund a leisure centre”.

So what happens next?

The inspector will make his interim conclusions on the Local Plan as a whole, indicating where the Plan is – and is not – sound. On the areas where the Plan is not considered sound by the inspector, Stafford Borough Council will have time to address these and prepare modifications. This includes six weeks for any extra consultation that may be required. The Local Plan examination in public may even be reconvened after this period should the inspector deem it necessary. When all this is done, the final, inspector-approved Local Plan will be published.

You can see lots of documents and find out more about the Local Plan examination process HERE

18 Comments

  1. Tony the Tiger

    So Stafford rides roughshod over Stone residents yet again. What happened to the money when the town hall was sold in the 1970/80′s.

  2. jill wood

    was a new supermarket required in Stafford when their new leisure centre was built?.
    A very good meeting opened my eyes to what is going on and what the borough are trying to do to our lovely canal/market town.lets hope the inspector comes down on the right side.

    • Stone Bloke

      the leisure centre was built in stafford as part of a land swap for the old tesco/leisure centre site. Staffs bc made the developer build the leisure centre first before developing the old site. 

      Rather lucky considering shortly after the developer went bust. End of the day stafford got a 12 million pound centre for FREE.  and the site is currently in the process of being developed. Not quite sure on my geography but its either going to be a full range MORRISONS or a DEBENHAMS. 

  3. Chris Evans

    If there’s really such a demand for a new food store (rather than a council that sees a way of getting someone else to pay its bills) why is the existing Coop always three-quarters empty?

    • Stone Bloke

      Because the market ultimately decides. The Co-op is empty most of the time because it doesn’t stock a range of goods that we as consumers need/want or even use. Over priced perhaps 

  4. gemma

    I’m in danger of sounding like a broken record….there is no statutory requirement for the Council to provide leisure facilities and the council have had a reduction in their funding budget. As such, any money that they do have, in the first instance, will be diverted to those things that the Council have a statutory requirement to provide. In light of this, if Stone wants improved leisure facilities funding for them needs to be provided by the private sector. This is not a new phenomenon and is known as S106 obligation. It’s through S106 obligations that we have affordable housing etc.

    In light of the above, I’m afraid, you can’t have improved leisure facilities without allowing some development first.

  5. Stone resident

    Let’s wake up . Westbridge is by far the best site plus we will get a leisure center . The school pool is to old and not suitable for very young children as the water is to cold . I understand the pool is closed at the moment due to a problem . It’s old and out of date! The youngsters of stone deserve something better. We must move with the times and not live in the dark ages . A supermarket will come to stone if we like it or not but let’s get the town something in return .

    • Tim

      You are making a lot of assumptions including the fact that a leisure centre cannot be otherwise funded (discussed at the hearing), that SBC will eventually build one (not listened much so far have they)  and that it would fit  onto their new area of the park as the supermarket now apparently needs to be larger that thought.

      You may think a park a good place for retail but many clearly do not and I don’t see myself in your ‘dark ages’!

  6. jill wood

    Well said Tim from Stone.

    WE have a very good and busy leisure centre on Westbridge Park,and also the swimming bath are suitable for all ages of children otherwise why do the schools still use it?
    WE DO NOT NEED  another supermarket in Stone as said previously the Co OP is almost always two thirds empty.If another supermarket is allowed we may as well say GOODBYE to our lovely HIgh Street.I like Tim do not live in the  dark ages I am all for progress where it is needed,but NOT on our park.

  7. PeterC

    As an ‘Alleynes swimmer’ the pool is good but the changing rooms etc could do with a refurb. The odd point of the SBC proposal (if I recall correctly) was they wanted Alleynes to continue to provide the sports hall and outdoor pitches for public use whilst losing the pool income. Co-op is a nice shop with little parking and somewhat expensive but for some things better than Morrisons and now host to the Post Office. If Co-op closed I don’t see anyone else taking it on leaving a long term empty premise, possibly threatening the Arcade shops and blighting the top end of the High St/Granville Square. . If SBC want to win support they need to address these types of question and be clear about how much of the Park would go for retail/housing etc. It’s not a choice modernist vs Dark Ages but a genuinely difficult issue of how to deliver regeneration without collateral damage

  8. Andy O

    I’m just a little fed up of the continued “trashing” of Alleynes Pool by a few individuals on behalf of SBC .
    As a frequent user of this and other pools I can say that the water quality is good and is indeed better than many pools I use. It is not any colder or indeed any warmer than any other pool I have swim in.
    The improvements that should be made to the pool are indeed required to changing accommodation/dry side and this amongst many other things to do with recreation have need highlighted in the SBC own Consultants report (KIT Campbell Associates PPG17 Assessment and Open Space, Sport and Recreation Facilities Strategy). In fact, reading this report, you will see what SBC consultant’s recommend in terms of the development of Alleynes Sports Centre and the development of Westbridge Park; the later to be made “park like” and a supermarket is not one of their recommendations. Instead some people and SBC, choose to ignore the content and spirit of this report and its application to Stone. Meanwhile elsewhere in the same report Kit Campbell recommend the development of a pool and sports centre at a school in the south of the county? Now, why can’t this be done at Alleynes. After all the kind of development is “current thinking“ on these matters . Instead we get SBC’s “part time” opening of the pool for the public ad going off “half cock” about developing the park. No wonder the same report comments on the limited use of the Alleynes pool.

    As far as new funding is concerned- we don’t need it. I’d sooner fund what we have, the way we have in the past, rather than have a supermarket built on “stilts” on the Westbridge Park floodplain.

  9. richard

    Hi peter. You make a valid point regarding the co op. However the premises are owned by the co op so no yearly rent is required. I reckon there would be a host of retailers crying out for that sort of retail space within stone and as the biggest retail unit on the high street it would be suited to pound land/home bargains or b+m.

    The people of stone are crying out for other retailers to come to stone to enhance the shopping experience. That cannot be done with retail units that are currently unoccupied. They are too small and not suited to modern retail.

    How do you think the town will compete once trentham gardens gets round to finishing its retail extension of 26 new units?

  10. Stone resident

    I take it all the people who love stone pool don’t have a disability or children under 3. We have to travel to Stafford to use there baby pool which is excellent . Aqua tots at Stafford is great, parents can take young children during school time . Children under 3 turn blue in stone pool . Also I know adults with disabilities and access into the pool is a problem. Stafford main pool has easy access for people .

    • I so agree with this comment….. I have taken both my grandchildren to the aqua tots pool in Stafford when they were little and the temperatures were ideal. I now have another grandchild and would love to take him to a local aqua tots in my own area were there one. Stone is growing all the time with housing but not with the infrastructure! It does need to move with the times a bit more.

  11. Stone resident

    It’s not about trashing the school pool . As a keen swimmer myself I agree that it’s great for me to turn up and swim length after length but I can’t take my 2 children who are both under 3 to there local pool because the water is to cold. Stafford have a baby pool which is warmer. Aqua tots at Stafford is fantastic and open in term time. Also I have a friend who has problems with his muscles and loves a swim but has to travel to Stafford because he can’t get in or out of stones pool. Stafford main pool has easy access to the pool so my friend and others like him can go for a swim and feel like they aren’t making a fuss. A town of stones size which is growing every year should have a pool for everybody.

    • Andy O

      I think you may be missing a point here! Alleynes was built in the 70’s as school pool with community use. It was designed and serves that purpose. Presumably the people of Rugeley, like those in Stone and indeed other towns and villages around Stafford would also take their young children to Stafford as well because Riverside was designed as a superior facility for public use and that is why it has a teaching pool appropriate for young children and facilities better suited for elderly and disabled people to experience swimming. It is worth noting that the new pool facility at Rugeley is a single main pool as well? There isn’t any plan for teaching pool. Maybe this need a rebuild as well? Incidentally the intention for a new pool in Stone wouldn’t actually change your opinion either because it wasn’t intended to have a warmer teaching pool either and even if a new pool was ever built on say e.g. Westbridge, then there simply wouldn’t be the space or the money for a teaching pool to be built. A much better idea would be to develop facilities at Alleynes both the dry side and … a new teaching pool if that’s what is required. The space is there … but apparently not the will! Alleynes is actually better than most other pools I have used and is suitable for the purpose with which it was built. What I can’t understand is the criticism (trashing!) of Alleynes pool when other communities are quite happy using their local single pools and in one case actually trying to save their local pool from closing.
      With Alleyne’s School now an Academy, I do wonder just how long it will be before they decide to develop the facility with new partners instead of the Borough Council? ..

  12. Allan Skerratt

    I thought the temperature of swimming pools was regulated at about 26 degrees C.

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