It was exactly three years ago today – 20th November 2012 – that a fiery public meeting was held at Alleyne’s Academy on Stafford Borough Council’s plans for the development of Westbridge Park.
The meeting kick-started a debate that is still rumbling three years on.
In this article we’ve had a look back at our coverage to pick out the key moments. You can see them below in a timeline we’ve put together.
Three years on from that meeting, the issue is still burning strong and appears to now be coming to a head.
Contracts were recently exchanged with the developers for a proposed M&S Simply Food store at Westbridge Park to help fund £6 million of leisure improvements, including new play areas and a new leisure centre. Stafford Borough Council says a planning application is imminent. If planning approval is granted, the store will be sited on the land next to the leisure centre currently used for tennis courts.
Whichever side of the debate you’re on, when the food store planning application is submitted, you’ll be able to have your say. We’ll obviously keep you posted when the application is made and how you can get involved by submitting comments.
Here’s the timeline of the key moments in the debate as we’ve covered them over the last three years…
30th September 2012 The draft Stafford Borough Local Plan includes a reference to “mixed-use development” at Westbridge Park. The chairman of Stone Food and Drink Festival, Richard Stevens, calls for this to be scrapped
October 2nd 2012 An e-petition is launched by town councillor Rob Kenney calling on Stafford Borough Council to withdraw Westbridge Park as a site for mixed-use development. Part of the petition read: “We ask that Stafford Borough Council withdraw their proposal from the Plan for Stafford Borough “Provision of mixed-use development at Westbridge Park”. We do not want retail or housing development to be built on Westbridge Park.”
8th October 2012 The borough council says there will be no housing at Westbridge Park as part of its development plans. Cabinet member for planning and regeneration Frances Beatty said: “There’s absolutely no discussion about Westbridge Park being for homes.
9th October 2012 Stafford Borough Council promised to consult with Stone residents before the end of the year on the controversial ‘mixed-use development’ plan
18th November 2012 A ‘Keep Westbridge Park Green’ petition is handed in to the borough council containing 4,771 signatures from an online and paper petition. A public meeting on the issue is moved from the town council offices to Alleyne’s High School (as it was called then) because of the large number of people expected to attend
20th November 2012 A public meeting is held at Alleyne’s High School. The borough council’s vision for a new leisure centre with swimming pool at Westbridge Park will not be realised unless a food store is part of any future development, council leader Mike Heenan told the special meeting of Stone Town Council’s General Purposes Committee
21st January 2013 Stafford Borough Council unveiled its vision for Westbridge Park as it announced a number of consultation events on its leisure strategy for Stone. A press release issued by the borough council said: “The council already pledged to put in a ‘substantial’ amount of money into the scheme – based on savings achieved from new, more efficient buildings and bringing the leisure facilities together onto one site. But the project will also require funding from selling off a small section of the council-owned park to developers for a food store. The store would be smaller than the town’s existing Morrisons.”
1st February 2013 Stone property developer Trent Vision Trust announces that it wants to see a new supermarket built at its proposed development at the Fillybrooks, instead of at Westbridge Park, and launches its own consultation to get local views
5th February 2013 A group of local residents set up a Facebook page called ‘New Leisure Centre for Westbridge Park’ and started to campaign for the borough council’s plan. They wrote a guest post for A Little Bit of Stone explaining why. We asked a number of local people to write guest points in a ‘Westbridge Park Viewpoints’ series of articles: Food and Drink Festival chairman Richard Stevens Keep Westbridge Park Green
13th February 2013 As the online consultation on the borough council’s lesiure strategy for Stone continues, the council says it would like to organise a ‘liaison group’ of interested people – including a representative from each of the town’s event committees – to work with the council on the detailed plans for Westbridge Park
19th March 2013 Stafford Borough Council put its leisure plans for Westbridge Park on hold following the results of the public consultation. Over 1,000 local people had their say in the consultation. Then leader of the borough council, Cllr Mike Heenan, said: “It is obvious from the feedback that people would rather not have another food store in Stone – but they do support better leisure facilities. An independent report said there was scope for a further food store but we are happy to look at the figures again. “We will be setting up a liaison group with representatives from key organisations in the town to look at how we improve leisure in Stone and are also investigating putting Westbridge Park into a trust to allay residents’ fears of large amounts of green space being built on.”
29th October 2013 The Stafford Borough Local Plan was examined in public by a Government inspector over a number of days. Stafford Borough Council made a number of last-minute changes to the Plan ahead of the public examination. The town centre boundary was extended to incorporate the developed land at Westbridge Park (the leisure centre, car park, tennis courts). And the ‘mixed-use development’ term for Westbridge Park was removed – it was changed to “leisure, community facilities and retail provision (not to include residential) on that part of Westbridge Park within the town centre boundary”
19th December 2013 In his interim Local Plan report, Government inspector Stephen Pratt says the mixed-use development allocation for Westbridge Park is “unsound” and that plans to extend the town centre boundary to include parts of Westbridge Park should be removed. The borough council is given time to make changes
12th June 2014 The Government inspector’s final report on the Stafford Borough Local Plan is published – and he’s pretty damning about the borough council’s plan for a food store at Westbridge Park. He says: “Although there may be a case to update and improve the existing leisure centre, the retail element of the proposal is questionable” “The introduction of new buildings, car parks and roads could also begin to change the character of this fringe of the park, and erode the appearance of this important gateway into the town and its historic Conservation Area” “Parts of [Westbridge Park] are subject to flood risk and the latest scheme has not been subject to a detailed sequential test in terms of flood risk and flood mitigation measures” “There is insufficient evidence to show that this site could be developed in the manner intended, particularly in terms of its retail location and flood risk”
3rd December 2014 Despite the ruling of the Government inspector during the Local Plan process, Stafford Borough Council unveils an amended plan for Westbridge Park and says for the first time that the planned food store will be an M&S Simply Food. The council reduces the size of the proposed store from 30,000 to 11,000 sq ft. The plans were approved by the borough council’s Cabinet later in the month
23rd May 2015 The Keep Westbridge Park Green campaign group announces it will be aiming to buy the land at Westbridge Park earmarked for a food store. The group registers its interest to purchase the land in new powers under the Localism Act and has six months to raise the £750,000 needed
3rd November 2015 The borough council exchanges contracts with the developers for the proposed M&S Simply Food store at Westbridge Park and says a planning application is imminent. We run a poll on our website – and 71% of respondents say ‘no’ to an M&S on Westbridge Park
31st October 2016 Stafford Borough Council approve the development of the Marks and Spencers store so the process now moves on to Government inspectors for the final say so.