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Controversy Over Car Parks Earmarked for Future Retail Development

Thursday 13 January 2011, 13:34
By Mandy Cochrane

A report in the 6th January edition of the Western Gazette, concerning the potential building of retail units on the existing free car parks in Wincanton, has prompted a swift reply from South Somerset District Council, denying that there are any proposals to build on these sites.

The Carrington Way car park, behind Co-op

The Western Gazette published the following article by Nick Webster:

A REPORT supporting plans for the future of Wincanton has earmarked two free car parks as potential retail sites. A £17,000 study by property consultants GVA Grimley identified car parks at Carrington Way and the Memorial Hall as possible sites for new shops.

But the plans went largely un-noticed by residents and were not discussed at any of the consultations, including the November public meeting in Wincanton. A 268-page report completed in July made recommendations for South Somerset District Council's core strategy, mapping out the area's future. Report data was collected from a household telephone survey, population forecast and capita spending figures.

A planning policy spokesman for the district council said: "The Memorial Hall car park and Carrington Way car park areas are the two most obvious central sites that could be considered if there was a need for more retailing units in Wincanton and someone applies for planning permission.

"The report isn't saying that the car parks should be developed, it's saying that the car parks exist and gives observations on their suitability as a location for new retail if there was a need, and if people were applying."

The strategy revealed plans to build 1,053 homes by 2026, increasing the population by around 2,000.

A leaflet was distributed outlining new houses, but it showed no specific retail sites for development in Wincanton.

Currently, 80 per cent of Wincanton's £30 million convenience goods expenditure goes to Morrisons on the edge of town.

The report suggested more emphasis should be placed on stores closer to the centre. If a growing population results in an increased demand for shops, Carrington Way car park is the preferred development option. Consideration would then be given to alternative car parking in the town. Constraints at Memorial Hall include the conservation area and its role as a significant car parking area.

Former Wincanton estate agent Nick Colbert said the community would be shocked by the plans. He said: "Many are still recoiling over the disclosure that open farmland to the side of Dancing Lane is part of south Somerset's preferred option for residential development.

"Where is the public consultation? The Lib Dems seem to be operating a 'behind closed doors strategy' with reports paid for with public money being hidden away to the detriment of public debate.

"It appears our lovely little market town of Wincanton is being earmarked as the next Milton Keynes."

Although the report suggests little requirement at present for retail development, this could change as the population grows. Wincanton residents were outraged at poor consultation over the core strategy, despite public meetings and leaflet distribution.

John Smith, chairman of Wincanton Businesses Together, said: "It would be fair to say plans to build on car parks would be viewed as a major threat to the integrity of our town centre. It's hard enough to survive in town centres these days without plans of this type.

"There is clearly, or has clearly been a discussion at district level. Wincanton is a fairly restricted town centre and parking has been an issue for a long time."

The town council objected in December to the core strategy, branding the planned extra 350 homes as unnecessary. Town and district councillor Colin Winder said: "People of this town like to get things done and if they had known about the plans to build on car parks I'm sure they would have reacted strongly.

"This report has been designed to confuse and it is no wonder these plans have gone by unnoticed. Although a growing town will need more shops, car parking is vital."

The Memorial Hall car park

The Memorial Hall car park

The Memorial Hall car park

In reply, Martin Woods, the Assistant Director for Economy at South Somerset District Council, has written the following letter to the editor of the Western Gazette and asked for it to be published:

I would like to comment on the article entitled "Car parks 'obvious' new sites for shops" in the 6 January South Somerset edition of the Western Gazette, which unfortunately gives totally the wrong impression and conclusion.

The article states that there are plans to develop retail on the Carrington Way and Memorial car parks in Wincanton.

This is not the case. A study was commissioned for the entire district to update our existing Retail Study and provide a picture of the possible need for new retail development up to 2026 in all the market towns. This Study was commissioned to provide evidence for the Council's draft Core Strategy which will be the Council's key planning policy document.

The consultants gave the council their views on the existence, or otherwise, of potential areas within towns where new shops might possibly be located should it be found that there was a need.

The conclusion of the study with regards to Wincanton was that:

  • in Wincanton there is very little need for new retailing space up until 2026
  • any new retail development should be concentrated on the existing town centre (where it would add to the vitality and viability of the centre.)

In terms of future potential sites they advised that Memorial Hall and Carrington Way were possibilities SHOULD there be a future identified need for additional retailing, and gave an idea of how viable retailing would be in these locations.

The study went on to conclude that there were obvious problems with both sites, not least the impact on parking and the health and attractiveness of the town centre.

Having taken into account the consultants' conclusions, it was clear to the council that it was neither necessary nor appropriate to allocate land for new retail development in Wincanton.

Therefore there are not any proposals in the Council's draft Core Strategy to allocate any new land for retail in Wincanton.

I would reiterate that the draft Core Strategy recently underwent public consultation. The reason the consultations and publicity contained no proposals for specific retail development in Wincanton is because there aren't any. This particular study was indeed in the public domain.

Of course, it should be noted that the fact that the car parks or anywhere in the town have not been allocated as new retail development land does not prevent someone from approaching the council with a planning application in the future, and the council would be obliged to deal with any application in the normal way. To reassure your readers, the adopted South Somerset car parking strategy recognises the current need for car parking in the town centre and the possible expansion.

The process of preparing a long term plan for the district is complex and it is easy to lose people's confidence in the process when misinformation comes forward.

As such, I would appreciate you printing this letter to help clarify the position for your readers.


Nick Colbert
Posts: 1
Whats that I can smell?
Reply #1 on : Thu January 13, 2011, 14:47:05
Where do we start?
Martin Woods states
"This particular study was indeed in the public domain."
Wincantons County Councillor Anna Groskop knew nothing of it, Colin Winder, one of Wincantons district councillors knew nothing of it, not one of Wincantons town councillors knew about this report and I have yet to speak to any resident of Wincanton that had been informed of its existence.
The only councillor I can think about who might have known about it is Cllr Carroll, leader of the Lib/dems and SSDC, but if he was aware of the GVA Grimley report he didn't seem to share it with any of Wincantons other elected representatives.

We have just seen the Wincanton transport bill go through with the Town council not given time to debate or influence the policy and when they asked for an extension to the deadline it was refused - so no debate there then.
The open farmland behind Dancing Lane appeared in the Core Strategy as "Option 1" The councils preffered strategy, with no discussion prior to its inclusion with the Town Council, Cllr Winder or County Cllr Groskop. The Town council has since turned that proposal down but it still remains in "Option 1"
Now we see decisions have been made with regard to the retail future of Wincanton without consultation of the Town Council, Cllr Winder or County Councillor Groskop. I am sure most, if not all of the above, would have liked to be included in these debates as the elected representatives in Wincanton, whether it be the transport bill, the Dancing Lane development or our retail future.
The issue at this stage is not what has or has not been decided it is why are Wincantons democratically elected representatives not being properly consulted by South Somerset District Council.
The actual report states the following:
(1) The report starts: "This report has been prepared by GVA Grimley Ltd in response to an instruction by South Somerset District Council (SDDC)dated July 2009, to prepare an updated Retail Needs Study and Town Centre Health Check for the South Somerset administrative area. This study will update a
previous retail study prepared by Development Planning and Design Services Ltd (‘DPDS’) for
SSDC in January 2006. This study will provide essential background information to assist SSDC in
the production of a Local Development Framework.",
(2) 1.3 States that "The objectives of this study are as follows:"
A review of potential retail development sites within and outside of the town centres (as defined
by Saved Local Plan Policy MC2) within the District.
(3) 1.4 concludes
"A set of concise conclusions and a retail strategy for South Somerset District is provided. This will focus on the retail hierarchy and the likely future role of each main centre, town centre improvements and retail development/investment/regeneration opportunities."
(4) 2.7 States:
"Identifying sites in the centre or, failing that, on the edge of the centre capable of accommodating larger format developments where a need for such developments has been identified."
(5) 2.8 States:
"Policy EC5 asks that local planning authorities should identify an appropriate range of sites to accommodate the identified need."
(6) Regional Planning Guidance for the South West (RPG10) 2.27 States:
"In terms of the location of shopping development, the Plan adopts a sequential approach to considering proposals for retail development.
The proposals are of a scale appropriate to the size and function of the town centres or local
centre and would help to sustain and enhance the vitality and viability of the centre."
(8) 2.22 states:
"Below Yeovil in the hierarchy, Chard, Crewkerne, Ilminster and Wincanton are identified as towns, which will function as locations for shopping uses."
(9) 6.5 States:
"Following discussions with Council Officers, it has been agreed that the focus of the locational assessment should be on a number of locations within the key settlements in the District, in order that every effort is made to support the aims and objectives of national policy. As a result, the sites set out below have been identified for the locational assessment."
11. Carrington Way car park
12. Memorial car park
(10) 6.7 States:
"Our locational assessment has tested each location against a range of criteria which are applicable to both the ‘principle’ of each site being identified for retail uses and a number of detailed criteria which will guide how each site is (re)developed."
(11) 6.23 states:
"In the larger of these settlements (Wincanton, Ilminster and Crewkerne) we are recommending that each of these centres pursue a constant market share for convenience retailing and efforts are made to (sustainably ) increase their comparison goods shopping market shares.

People can make up their own minds about what the report does or does not say but why are the Towns elected representatives and the people themselves not being allowed to comment and debate the issue.

If anyone would like a copy of the report email me at "" and I will gladly send it to you.

By the way, on the map on page 267 of the report it clearly shows the Sheltered Housing car park next to Homecanton House as included in the "possible proposed" retail development site.
Last Edit: January 13, 2011, 14:56:22 by Nick Colbert  

Posts: 1
Power to the Town Council
Reply #2 on : Thu January 13, 2011, 17:17:13
2 questions, how much grit would £17 000 buy & how many shops/retail outlets are currently empty in Wincanton?

We have a Town Council, lets trust them, support them, have faith in them & make some noise for them to be given the information that effects our Town.
Posts: 1
Car Park Development.
Reply #3 on : Fri January 14, 2011, 16:15:13
Steve is right. Since becoming chair of WBT we took a decision to work with our Town and District Councils for the betterment of our community. We know that along the way we will dissagree on the odd occasion, but if we look positively for the best benefit for our community we see positive results. Arguing and bickering tends to lead nowhere.

Car Parking in Wincanton has been a thorny issue for many years. I have no problem with a plan that identifies potential expansion for retail as and when it is needed. But when the plan is set out without local consultation, and to the best of my knowledge doesn't suggest where lost parking can be replaced and increased to cover retail excpansion, I have to question whether that £17k was actually good value for money.

This is one issue that District seems to have got wrong.

Why, when we have an excellent Wincanton people's Plan, is it necessary to spend 1000's of £'s to have a study conducted. This study only tells District what the WPP can already tell them. It is a concern that such a study can be conducted without reference to any official body in Wincanton itself.

We have an important local committee overseeing The Wincanton People's Plan. I'm a newbie to the WPP, but my impression is that it is a great document, which used wisely will add greatly to our business and residential communities. This ongoing plan will be adjusted as time goes by to give an accurate picture about this fair town. Where it is now. Where it plans to go. The Town Council, WBT and many others are working hard on WPP. We are passionate about our town. All we ask is that District listens and consults with us.

We are not the busy town of Yeovil. We are Wincanton, and we deserve to be consulted, and listened to when it comes to deciding our future. We deserve to have a decent say in the future of our town.

Come on District, work with us. Not apart from us. Let us be involved in the decisions that dictate our future.

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