STOKESLEY residents have been protesting against a plan for a supermarket on the outskirts of the town.
Since the property developers Terrace Hill announced their plans to buy the site of the Mill Riggs farm shop on the A172 in Stokesley and build a supermarket on it, the townspeople have been in uproar.
The developers intend to build a 1394sqm supermarket on the site, along with a petrol station and a car park. A roundabout and extra bus stops would also be built on the road for ease of access.
The developers claim that the store will bring 140 jobs to the town, both part-time and full-time. They also say that it will mean that residents won’t have to travel to neighbouring towns to do their main shopping.
However, residents still felt that an out of town supermarket would destroy the town’s iconic high street, with people preferring the more convenient and cheaper option that a supermarket would likely offer.
A protest group called Save Our Stokesley sprung up to protect the town’s character and charm, with the aim to halt the development of the supermarket. The group, made up of local business people and residents, has become increasingly influential and popular as the development passed through the planning system.
One member of the chair committee, Andy Price, works at Teesside University, and has lived in Stokesley for around ten years. ‘It’s not that the town couldn’t do with a new supermarket, it’s where they want to build it that’s the issue,’ he told me.
‘Government statistics show that out of town supermarkets can single-handedly ruin towns, by drawing custom away from the independent shops and market stalls located in the town centre or high street.’
‘Where are people more likely to shop,’ he continued, ‘several different and probably more expensive independent businesses, or one big, cheap supermarket?’
They have held meetings to allow locals to have their points of view heard, and have a stall at the local farmer’s market to spread the word.
Save Our Stokesley is also very active on social media, spreading news via their Facebook page and engaging with the public. They also encouraged people to object to the Hambleton District Council planning department, via email or written letter.
Their campaign is partially responsible for the record number of objections received; over one thousand. The decision is expected to be announced on the 26th of June.
However, not every Stokesley resident is against the supermarket. In a survey conducted in the Stokesley High Street, 25% of the people asked were in favour of the supermarket.
Of the people who were for the supermarket, some said that the local Co-Op had a monopoly on the town, and offered an unsatisfactory selection, hoping that the new supermarket would be superior. Others said that the extra roundabouts would help slow traffic on the bypass and make the roads safer.
Local councillor Bryn Griffiths said, ‘Terrace Hill has a lot of economic, social and environmental questions to answer.’
‘The supermarket would definitely have some worrying effects. It could lead to significant job loss for the town, causing the quality of the high street to decrease.’
When questioned about Save Our Stokesley, he said ‘The local reaction doesn’t surprise me at all, and I fully support them, and encourage residents to make their views heard.’
However, he is also worried that even the residents’ best efforts may not be enough to deter the supermarket, ‘Even if the plans fail at a local level, the developers could now appeal and get the proposal passed, thanks to Eric Pickles’ changes to the system.’
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, is capable of overruling local opposition and approving planning propositions regardless of objections, which the campaigners are duly worried about.
‘Whilst we firmly believe that the local council’s planning department will see how potentially dangerous this supermarket could be for the local economy and high street, you really have to wonder whether Mr Pickles will still approve it. It’s not a prospect we hope to have to face however,’ said one resident.
Terrace Hill have tried to respond to the queries and demands from the townsfolk in return.
‘There is a clear appetite in Stokesley for the inclusion of a cycleway and improved footpaths surrounding the site, and we will be pleased to work with Hambleton District Council to try and accommodate this within the proposals’ said David McEwan, head of retail and leisure at Terrace Hill.
‘In relation to the potential for the scheme to impact upon the high street and we will address this understandable concern through the retail impact assessment we submit with the planning application,’ he continued.
Residents won’t have much longer to wait and see whether or not their objections have persuaded the local planning committee, but regardless of the outcome, they’ve thrown everything they’ve got into the Save Our Stokesley campaign.
A feature film about Stokesley and the views of its residents.
I asked people in Stokesley, ‘What do you think of the proposed supermarket?’