Sunday, July 17, 2005

Death of a market town?

What is going to happen to Castle Douglas? Will we lose our 'Mart' - livestock market- and get another supermarket instead? Has the Tesco plan ushered in an era of unplanned development? Or will Dumfries and Galloway Council manage to slam the lid back on?

By rejecting the move of the Garden Centre from the Tesco site (expected to open April 2006) , a wave of popular protest has been unleashed. 3600 people have signed a petition asking the Council to reconsider and an appeal is to be made to the Scottish executive.

But if you read through the arguments against relocation- see

the fear is that if teh grden Centre is allowed to move, this would create a precedent for further developments out of town towards the A 75. Wallets Mart have been in Castle Douglas since the 1850ies. As well as the Mart site besdie the Market Hill , they also own fields around the town. These date back to the days when livestock had to be walked to market and kept overnight before being sold.

If Wallets can get these fields re-zoned for housing and sell their Mart site for retail use, Castle Douglas would become 'suburbanised'.

All that is really holding the process back is lack of sewage capacity- but this is set to change over the next few years, once Scottish Water's 2006- 2014 investment strategy kicks in.

By showing that planning policies don't apply to big developments, Tesco have set in motion economic overdevelopment processes which will destroy all that is unique about Castle Douglas.

The following letter published in the loal Galloway News on 14 July 2005 attempts to explain this...

Dear Sir,

the planning process is like an iceberg.. High profile planning decisions, like the Castle Douglas Garden Centre one, are only the tip of the iceberg. Its main bulk lies beneath the surface in a mass of documents like the Stewartry Local Plan, which in turn are based on a raft of National Planning Policy Guidelines and Planning Advice Notes which interpret relevant Acts of Parliament. Altogether it is an incredibly complicated structure. Unfortunately, thanks to Scottish Water, the planning system is also in a state of chaos.

Across Dumfries and Galloway and throughout Scotland, Local Plans are in limbo. Local Plans give specific details of where house building and other developments can take place. These in turn can only be built if Scottish Water invest in upgrading water and sewage services for the new developments. Scottish Water's 2000 to 2006 investment strategy failed to take such proposed developments into account. The result has been a planning 'log-jam'. Five years after the first draft Local Plans were proposed, they are all now subject to a Public Inquiry.

Looking at the situation in Castle Douglas, the Scottish Water problem has created planning chaos. Large scale developments, like the Ernespie Road housing, health centre and supermarket ones, have gone ahead even though they were not included in the original Local Plan. A key factor here is that the developers have agreed with Scottish Water to pay for an upgrade of the local sewage system. By allowing these developments, the impression has been created that planning is now a free for all driven by economic clout rather than local need..

Reading between the lines of the Planning Officer's Report on the Garden Centre Relocation, it seems an attempt is being made to re-impose order. In particular, reference is made to Wallets Mart's submission to the Public Inquiry into the Stewartry Local Plan. Wallets argue that the Stewartry Showfield (next to the Tesco site) should be 're-zoned' for housing. In their supporting evidence, Wallets also explain that they are looking to relocate their Mart, which would free up a key site within the town for retail and residential use. Viewed in isolation, the relocation of the Garden Centre could be seen as 'natural growth' . But from a planning perspective, this move of an important business would create a precedent for the 'unplanned' expansion of Castle Douglas all the way out to the A 75.

Change is coming. The GVA Grimley retail capacity study commissioned by the Council suggested that the Market Hill become a new town centre in place of King Street. This would go hand in hand with future redevelopment of the Wallets Mart/ Primary School area . But we should never forget that Castle Douglas' heritage is that of a Georgian planned town. Sir William Douglas' legacy is still celebrated during Castle Douglas Civic Week. Sir William's plans for his new town were bold and inspired, even visionary. In planning the future of Castle Douglas, we need to re-affirm Sir William's vision rather than squander his legacy. We need look no further than Dumfries to see what King Street might become. Or as Shelley almost put it 'Look upon the Friars Vennel ye mighty, and despair"'

Friday, July 01, 2005

Tesco collapses!

Deconstruction? It wasn' t us, honest...


01 July 2005

Gerrards Cross tunnel collapse causes commuter chaos

An inquiry has been launched into the collapse of 20-metre section of a partially completed railway tunnel last night.The tunnel at Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire was to be put in place so that the carpark for a £20 million Tesco Superstore development could be built over the Chiltern line.No-one was injured in the collapse of the tunnel over the line which runs from Marylebone to Birmingham but train services on the line will be subject to major disruption for at least a week until thousands of tonnes of material can be cleared from the track.

At around 7.30pm on Thursday evening the driver of a train stopped near the Gerrards Cross station alerted authorities of the collapse of the tunnel near the station.Overnight, specialist investigators from Network Rail and the Health and Safety Executive were called in to examine the scene.A spokesperson for Chiltern Railways this morning apologised for the inconvenience caused by the situation, which he said was beyond the company's control.
The Gerrards Cross station will remain closed until further notice and Chiltern Railways announced that an emergency timetable is in operation on the route.

Passengers will be bused between: Beaconsfield and Amersham (for onward Chiltern Railways and London Underground services to central London); High Wycombe to Maidenhead (for onward First Great Western Link trains to London Paddington); and Denham to West Ruislip (for onward Chiltern Railways and London Underground services to central London).The spokesperson confirmed that until further notice, Chiltern Railways tickets would be accepted by Virgin Trains, First Great Western Link, Central Trains, Silverlink Trains and London Underground on the neighbouring alternative rail routes.(SP/GB)

Tesco create planning chaos....

Even before they have built their new store, Tesco have already set in motion the destruction of Castle Douglas as a rural market town. For 150 years, Castle Douglas has been home to Wallets Mart. The mart site (see 'A stroll around Castle Douglas' blog) is covers several acres next to the Market Hill. Wallets also own land around the town. This dates back to the days when sheep and cattle were walked to market and rested over night in fields around the town before being auctioned.

Now a key planning point we made against Tesco was that the site they had chosen was right on the edge of town and separated from the town centre by a 5 spur roundabout and a 15 minute walk. Tesco argued that no alternative location was feasible. Dumfries and Galloway Council paid £10 000 to retail consultants GVA Grimley to check this out.

Grimley' s agreed with us. The site chosen by Tesco was not appropriate. Grimley 's even offered ( at the public planning committee meeting on March 11th 2005)to support the Council should they refuse Tesco planning permission on these grounds. The offer was not taken up.

Unfortunately, Grimley' s also identified a much better site - Wallets Mart. "Ah, but Wallets are not willing to sell up and move out" the meeting was assured. Oh really?

In evidence submitted this June to a Public Inquiry into the Local Plan, where Wallets were arguing that the fields they own next to the Tesco site should be zoned for housing, there is a record of a meeting held on 22 April 2004 between Wallets, their planning consultant and D and G planners. It is clear from this that Wallets were looking over a year ago to relocate their Mart out of town and sell off the land for retail and residential use. This proposal was accepted and the Mart site is now zoned for retail/ residential use. The Tesco plan was also discussed.

With me so far? Good.

The Garden Centre problem.
Part of the land Tesco have bought is occupied by a garden centre. perhaps naively, the garden centre owner sold to Tesco before he had got planning permission to relocate to a 'just out of town' site. With wonderful irony, he has been refused planning permission, on exactly the same planning points we tried to use against Tesco - i.e. impact on vitality and viability of town centre, distance from town centre etc. etc. The one difference was that the Wallets Mart proposal to build house on the neighbouring field (home to the annual local ' Stewartry Agricultural Show') was mentioned as a factor. If the garden centre was allowed to relocate to a 'just outside town' site, this would make it difficult to deny Wallets permission to build houses in the show field and so would start a process of unchecked expansion of the town out to the Castle Douglas Bypass , going against the whole thrust of national/ Scottish planning policy.... especially since Wallets also own land next to the bypass (although this was not mentioned in the planning officers decision, it is in the 'File Note' for the April 22 2004 meeting).

Result? Outrage! Letters page of Galloway News had to go to two pages to print all the 'angry of Auchenshoogl' letters. The garden centre owner, Les (not Vic) Reeves, is to appeal against the decision and has got 1000 customers to sign a petition of support...

There seems to be total incomprehension - how did Tesco manage to get planning permission for a supermarket no-one wants, but a garden centre (the only one locally) which is 'needed' can't? But equally, none seems to have grasped the point that shifting the garden centre (and allowing it to double in size) would set in motion a train of events which would destroy castle Douglas as a rural market town.

By letting Tesco drive a coach and horses (or should that be tractor and trailer?) through the planning system, our Council have sold out Castle Douglas. But then again, neither Les Reeves nor even Wallets Marts plc have the same economic resources and political clout as Tesco. To put it bluntly, Tesco are free to operate outside the planning system, but local businesses, no matter how large or popular, do not share this freedom.

Even if a rival supermarket chain wanted to build on the Wallets Mart site (assuming Wallets can relocate), the 'spare retail capacity' GVA Grimley' s identified as existing in Castle Douglas will have been taken up by Tesco. This argument has already been used against the garden centre. Les Reeves wanted to double the size of his existing garden centre shop /cafe. "Oh no you can't", he was told, "the Tesco development has absorbed all of the predicted retail growth for Castle Douglas for the next ten years.... Snookered!

And finally.... can I say a rude word?

"Shit". there, I have said it. (Apologies to those of a sensitive disposition),

Along with hundreds of other communities in Scotland, the 'natural' growth of Castle Douglas has been blocked fro the past few years by a lack of essential infrastructure. Our sewage system is at maximum capacity. There are two aspects. 1. The actual waste treatments works is full to overflowing and 2. at present treated waste water flows out into a ditch called the Tarry Burn (from days when it carried waste from town's gas works) which winds its way through a Site of Special Scientific Importance/ Special Protected Area/ RAMSAR (international designation) wetland to the river Dee.

Problem 1. has yet to be tackled, but problem 2. has been sorted. Tesco are going to pay to put the outfall from the sewage works into a pipeline, at an estimated cost of £1.8 million. Mind you, they may not be paying the full whack. Planning permission for a new health centre was given last August. Work on it has only now started, but the cost has risen mysteriously by £1 million. No doubt co-incidentally, the cost of the sewage pipeline has also risen since last August: from £600 000 to £1.8 million. The original route of the pipeline ran straight through the SSSI/SPA/RAMSAR site so got thrown out by Scottish Natural Heritage, hence the price rise..

To go back to the 22 April 2004 meeting (see above)... at this meeting, Wallets Marts pointed out that their activities cause 'periodic fluctuations' in sewage flows i.e. when they hose down the livestock pens after an auction. If the Mart was relocated out of town, this would remove the problem and so create more capacity for residential opportunities...

Enough. I could go on for pages (and no doubt will) about the fallout from the Tesco planning decision. It will be sad, but watch this space for an online blow by blow description of the death of a rural market town....