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Westbridge Park M&S store to move a step closer

Westbridge Park

The tennis courts at Westbridge Park (photo taken during October’s food and drink festival) – site of a planned Marks & Spencer Simply Food store

UPDATE – 17th November 2015

Stafford Borough Council has exchanged contracts with the developers for the proposed M&S Simply Food store at Westbridge Park.

Chief executive Ian Thompson said today: “We have exchanged contracts with Liberty Properties who are the developers for the proposed M&S Simply Food Store on the area of Westbridge Park currently occupied by the tennis courts. This will provide funding towards the leisure development in the park which will include new leisure centre and play areas. We have been working on plans for the new leisure centre but required this contractual agreement to be in place before we could progress further.

“A planning application for the M&S is expected soon.”

A planning application for a Marks & Spencer Simply Food store and cafe on Westbridge Park in Stone will be submitted by the end of the year.

Westbridge Park

A Stafford Borough Council spokesman told us today that the planning application was imminent and that it was the first stage of the process to deliver a £6 million leisure scheme for Westbridge Park.

The proceeds from selling land at Westbridge Park (the current tennis courts) to Marks & Spencer will contribute towards the cost of a new leisure centre and play facilities.

In December last year, following consultation in the town, the borough council revealed its amended plans, which saw the size of the planned food store scaled down from 30,000 to 11,000 sq ft. As well as a new leisure centre and play facilities, the borough council said last December that the scheme could also include a new sports hall and 3G artificial pitch at Alleyne’s Academy, as well as improved football pitches at Walton Common.

In May, the Keep Westbridge Park Green (KWPG) campaign group registered their interest to make a bid for the land earmarked for the M&S store. KWPG is opposed to any commercial development at Westbridge Park.

A Stafford Borough Council spokesman told us today: “We expect to have a planning application submitted for a new M&S Simply Food store before the end of the year. This is the first stage of delivering the £6 million leisure scheme for Stone.”

Cllr Jill Hood from Keep Westbridge Park Green said: “This will finish our High Street, particularly now that in a recent email to me from Hugo Adams – director of property for Marks and Spencer Plc – he states that there will be a cafe included in the development, a detail not mentioned by Stafford Borough Council. There will be no need for anyone shopping there to leave the park and wander into town to browse and visit our shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants. I welcome a new play area for the young children, swimming pool and a teenage facility on the park, something Stone has been denied the right to for years, but not at the expense of the environment with hundreds of cars being added to an already very busy road.”

The borough council spokesman added that additional planning applications to deliver the leisure scheme would follow a successful Marks & Spencer one. Like all planning applications, local people will be able to submit comments on the M&S Simply Foods store application.

Until then, let us know what you think in our poll. You can also leave a comment at the bottom of this page

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
Start date 05-10-2015 22:59:58
End date 09-11-2015 23:59:59
Poll Results:
Do you want to see an M&S Simply Food at Westbridge Park?

The borough council is planning to outsource its leisure and culture facilities to a charitable trust – it says the move will not affect the developments at Westbridge Park.

16 comments

  1. Frankly Staffs County Council don’t really care what local residents want do they, if it’ls polled at 80% “no” and they’ve gone ahead anyway, clearly someone’s being paid off

  2. I am rather disturbed that the Borough Council keeps saying that M and S is coming to Westbridge Park. They even print it on their planning maps. What has happened to local democracy. Surely the planning application has to be approved? I assume that there will be an opportunity for people to express their views either for or against. There is a democratic deficit here.

  3. Cant believe people are asking/saying that m&s should approach the co op to take over there store. Thats quite ridiculous “your shops guano and we’d rather take it on” is basically what people are saying.

    If the co op were to close as a result it would present an opportunity for a new retailer to occupy the space.

    Is change such a dirty word in stone?

    Other than the co op there are no other alternative options on the high street that offer the flexibility required to recieve the deliverys required due to the time and weight restrictions.

    Three/four yrs have passed since its inception,
    my kids are now too old to benefit from this how many more children have to miss out

    • I think the suggestion is that M and S would be better located in the premises currently occupied by the Co-Op. The Co-Op doesn’t own the premises and is underperforming according to retail statistics and it’s days may be numbered, anyway.

      As to timing, even if a store on the park was to go ahead, you can count on at least another 2 or 3 years wait for approval, building, etc.

      • A quick search for the rateable values will show that the co op is indeed owned by the co operative group based in lichfield.

        Based on your retail statistics perhaps we should close morrisons?also

        • No idea what you are trying to say.

          The freehold is not owned by the Co-Op – but by a property development company. What has that yo do with rates?

          The retail stats are there for anyone to see. The store is underperforming by a mile. It surely has a limited life-time.

          • Well with the relocation of the post office it certainly seems busier. Added to the recent recruitment drive they’ve done and it could be on an upward trend?

  4. I jus t wish M&S could locate in the High Street. I am worried that if the Co-Op were to decide to leave , we could end up with a huge empty space that would have been perfect for M&S ! I wonder if M&S have approached the Co-Op at all ?

    • Excellent points, Adam. An M and S on the High St would give residents what they want, improve footfall and help support and perhaps regenerate High St trading.

      An M and S in the form of a Simply store aimed at one stop shopping and located on the Park will be the final nail in the coffin as far as the High St is concerned.

      SBC are responsible for a shoddy plan driven by their desire for revenue and without due concern for the future of Stone. Once gone, this land will be impossible to recover and we could end up with any commercial operation on there.

    • It is also my fear that the Co-Op will leave especially with further competition from a Westbridge park store. There would be huge empty void at the top of the High street. It would be more beneficial for M & S to be located at the Co-Op site bringing in a greater footfall directly into the High Street.
      I wonder how many people actually know what is being offered by Stafford Borough Council.
      1. It’s not a leisure centre as many seem to think. It will be a new gym with a couple of rooms used for classes. There will be no sports hall or courts. Just a gym.
      2. The gym is only available to persons over the age of 14
      3. The pool will be the same size as the Alleynes pool. There will be no children’s pool or other pool.
      4. The new children’s playground will be the same size at the same site as the existing. The existing site cannot be filled in/levelled off as it is part of the existing flooding mitigation.
      5. The teenagers area will be tucked away further along near to the canal. There has been no indication of size and facilities that ill form it.

      SBC need to put forward the plans for the leisure centre etc first so that people know what they would be getting.
      As for funding there are other options. Some are what Ian has suggested.

      The sale of the land will only be generating £750,000. SBC made an election gimmick out of the Council tax by reducing it in 2014 by £3.00 a year or less than 6p a week for all residents in the Borough equating to £129,000/year. The £750,000 would have been realised in just over 5 years had they not done so.

      SBC will be investing £5.3 million pounds into the whole scheme but it’s not their money. It is money that has been generated through S106 agreements that have come from all the housing developments around Stone (mainly Walton). The agreements that have been made for this project must be spent in Stone. If the borough does not spend it in this way they are legally obliged to return it to the developers. So SBC cannot say they won’t spend it on new Leisure facilities.

      Let’s not forget the extra Council tax revenue generated by all the new housing each year. Also the new homes bonus that 1200 new homes generate (around about £9.9 million pounds)

  5. I am against the plan for retail in this are and strongly agree with Andy’s points.

    I also feel it will be the final nail in the coffin of the high street for Stone due to the fact that most High Street property in the UK is owned by pension funds who are not interested in occupancy just capital growth on the investment.

    The future will be more boarded up shops especially as the Banks continue to exit more and more high streets.

    What no one has mentioned if what happening up al Alleynes re leisure facilities, I have no idea re ownership of that site re the school and council but am 99% certain we will see housing up there and the removal of the sports facilities

    • Hi Laurence. Re your point about Alleyne’s, the plan is for the swimming pool area to be converted into another sports hall. As far as we’re aware, the sports centre at Alleynes will continue to be operational

  6. I like most people in Stone vote for improved Leisure & Recreation facilities but not a development (M&S or any other sort) on the park. The land sale is worth about 10% of the costs and if SBC don’t fund their other parks in that way, then why should they in Stone. The idea was rejected by HMI at the hearing for the Plan for Stafford and had to be withdraw because the inspector found it unsound, yet hear we are again- knocking at the back door. There’s plenty of other options available to SBC to provide well overdue recreation and leisure facilities on the park and with them announcing, only last week, plans to outsource the running costs in their Leisure and Rec Portfolio, I do wonder why they are committing to this kind of capital spend, especially when we are told they are so cash strapped and some funding is coming from a loan?
    However, there’s nothing new in this statement (I’m not getting too excited) from Stafford Borough Council in “expecting” before the end of the year. I expect them to “Keep buggering on” with their plan but usually the land has to be sold off first before the new owners can build on it, so a small problem there! … and that assuming the sale of the Community Asset i.e. our park, was conducted in a fair and proper manner of course and I’m testing that hypothesis now. Of course residents will want yet ANOTHER say in the matter come the consultation period for the Stone Neighbourhood Plan (this month – November 2015) which is probably why SBC are “expecting” now. There will be a big difference this time though, because what is “passed” in the Neighbourhood Plan by the people of Stone with regards to this and other matters, becomes law and there’s not a lot SBC can do about that … except listen to the people of Stone of course and stop playing games with consultations, reports and the media

    • Quite right, Andy, to point out that selling land on the Park is not necessary to fund a new leisure facility.

      There are private operators who will fund or part fund leisure facilities in exchange for management rights and the council could still exercise pricing control. So, why are they doing this? Other than to prove they have the power to push through flawed plans over the heads of the residents of Stone, of course.

      As you say, maybe the forthcoming Neighbourhood Plan consultation will give people the chance to say save the park for leisure use!

  7. Dear Jamie, I have voted for the new leisure centre & M&S but wish to comment on the SBC decision to spend only £6 Million on their planned developments. The going rate for a new supermarket is £7 Million paid to ‘smooth the planning decision’ so why aren’t SBC spending it all on the local area? Have the council had to accept less because they have scaled down the size of the supermarket? Are the council planning to support other spending inside or outside the area or just recoup some deficit they can see will happen in the future budget?

    • Hi Bill. Thanks for your comment. All good questions, those. Not sure what M&S would pay in Section 106 agreements as part of any approval of their planning application. They will obviously pay for the land (around £750,000, it’s believed) but I haven’t got answers to your questions about Section 106, I’m afraid. I’ll certainly try to find out

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