Last week we reported about the positive impact that the Stone Food and Drink festival has on the town (read here) but news from the festival organisers today paints a worrying picture for the event in 2017 and beyond.
With the approval by Stafford Borough Council on the re-development of Westbridge Park, which the local town council had rejected, the first phase begins in April with the start of the M&S development as well as the removal of the skate park and the building of a new guide head quarters.
Work on the new Leisure centre is scheduled to follow on later in the year. in August/September. All three projects will directly impact the space used currently used by the festival.
Despite working with Stafford Borough Council to try to come up with a viable solution, the event is now at risk – as Festival chairman, Richard Stevens, explains:
“The work on the lower level at Westbridge Park will see us lose a critical amount of space (approx. 12,000sqft); impacting not only space used by visitors but key access routes and services. We have liaised closely with the Borough Council to try and come up with a solution that will enable us to use more of the green space on the park itself, but are currently drawing a blank.
“This time of year is crucial to the festival as traders book their shows for the year ahead – unless we have a resolution soon we are going to lose traders and will have to cancel the event, which would be its death-knell. We are, needless to say, devastated that this is a possibility. The festival is a not for profit organisation, run by a team of volunteers with the sole aim of bringing visitors – and their money – into the town centre, so relocation is not an option.
“As a result of the 2014 consultation regarding the development of Westbridge Park, Stafford Borough Council promised that the green area of Westbridge Park would be retained for events such as the Stone Food & Drink Festival and Stone Festival to enable them to carry on ‘in perpetuity’. By not allowing us to use some of the adjacent football pitch, the council appears to be going back on its word. Ending the festival would undo everything we have worked to achieve over the past 13 years.”
Since the news last week that the Co-Op wouldn’t be renewing their High Street lease there has been an increasing call from Councillors, traders and members of the public for M&S to reconsider their plans and to look at whether the existing Co-Op store could be re-developed to provide an M&S store in a much more beneficial position for all in the town.
As part of its proposed solution to allow the event to continue in 2017, the Festival has suggested moving the football pitch slightly to the south creating sufficient space to mitigate the space lost to development. The festival has also offered to finance the installation on a new entry gate to the park to make the new layout feasible.
The 2017 Stone Food & Drink festival is planned to take place on Friday 6th, Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th October. For more information on the event, visit www.stonefooddrink.org.uk