Letters to the Editor

Here are the letters sent to us this week that can be seen on page 10. If you have a letter you can e-mail it to news@mearnsleader.com or mail it to 12 Ann Street, AB39 2ER.

Supermarket - Get your act together

Sir- As a past resident of Stonehaven who has a continued interest in the town, having been born and brought up there,I read in your paper of November 21 two letters in particular, one from Diane Fleming and another from Mrs G Martin.

I was astonished at Diane Fleming’s letter stating that “it would be wonderful if a supermarket could be built without some sort of additional development.” There could have been a supermarket without ‘additional development’ in 2004/2006 at the Loop Road site beside Fetteresso Cemetery, along with an extension to the cemetery as requested by the relevant department of the council and agreed to by the developer.

However, Diane Fleming’s husband, David, now a member of the STP (Stonehaven Town Partnership), along with the Stonehaven Community Council, objected to the very first application in 2004 on the Loop Road site and made it their cause celebre to prevent a supermarket being built in Stonehaven. As I understand matters, Mr Fleming and others continue to object to the Loop Road site because it was previously refused, but since that time, between eight to 10 years, things have changed and moved on, except Mr Fleming and some others.

It is interesting to note, as I understand matters, that Councillor Christie - who was also a member of the community council when they objected to the Loop Road site - stayed silent when sites were being discussed at the Local Development Plan meeting in June of this year. Of course, we are all aware that the result of that meeting was that a wholly inappropriate site was chosen and then dismissed by the Infrastructure Services Committee - no surprise there, perhaps - but denying the residents of Stonehaven their much needed retail outlet without additional residential and industrial development.

The Loop Road supermarket proposal and extension to the cemetery was again in front of the councillors at that meeting and this answers Mrs Martin’s question.

In my opinion, Stonehaven has not been well served by the community council or Aberdeenshire Councillors who should get their act together and think of the people they were elected to serve instead of personal preferences. I exclude Councillor Wendy Agnew from this as she could not take part in the discussions nor any decision because her husband is the agent for the Loop Road site.

Yours etc.,

Helen Ross

past Stonehaven resident

Impact on the town centre

Sir- Anyone reading the recent letters on the subject of Aberdeenshire Council’s rejection of the FM Ury and Barratt Drum planning applications might be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that some people consider our councillors to be deranged. Your correspondents seemed to suggest that our four local councillors got together one day and, just for the sake it, decided to vote against proposals which appear to give the people of Stonehaven what they want. Did it never occur to Mr Burton and Ms Bruce that there must be more to those decisions than meets the eye? After all, our councillors may be many things but they are not perverse and they are not deliberately going to commit political suicide.

When making up their mind about these and any other controversial planning application, our councillors did what we would expect them to do: considered carefully the justification for and ramifications of the proposed development.

They would need, for example, to satisfy themselves that there was compliance with Scottish Government planning policy, that the application was in line with the existing and emerging Local Development Plan, ask themselves if there was a need for the houses in that particular area and what impact they would have on the town’s existing infrastructure in terms of education, health, transportation, roads, flooding, etc. They would, of course, also bear in mind the views of their constituents regarding the proposals and whether the demands of local people can be met.

In the case of the Ury and Toucks planning application, Aberdeenshire councillors carefully weighed up all these considerations and more, took everything relevant into account and decided it was in the best interests of all involved to turn them down. In doing so they were behaving as we would expect our councillors to act and they should not be berated for doing their job.

One thing they would have paid particular attention to is the impact of the retail development aspect of these planning applications on the shops and businesses of the town centre. It would be remiss of them not to. In her letter supporting the so-called Loop Road site, Ms Bruce dismisses the idea that edge of/out of town retail developments can have a detrimental effect on the viability and vitality of existing town centres, describing the idea as “subjective nonsense” and biased opinion not based on facts. She is wrong. The fact is that town centres across Scotland and beyond have been adversely affected by edge of settlement retail developments.

The Scottish Government acknowledges the problem in its planning policy principles and guidance to local authorities.

That is why the developers behind these planning applications are obliged to provide a retail impact analysis of how what they are proposing will affect the existing town centre. The one produced by FM Ury for its original application indicated a 20% retail draw from the town centre to their proposed supermarket on the other side of the bypass. A similar and more recent report commissioned by the council to assess the impact of that same development on the town centre came to roughly the same conclusion. In other words, even at existing levels, business activity in the town centre would more than likely be reduced by about a fifth.

I would ask those who demand that our elected representatives give them another supermarket “now” to consider whether the shops and businesses on, for example, the south side of the Square could withstand a 20% drop in trade. There are seven of them: an optician, a travel agent, a betting shop, a wine shop, a fast food outlet, a solicitor/estate agent and a butcher. In order for readers to contemplate the possible impact on these it is necessary to give some idea of the size of the proposed supermarket at Ury. It is roughly 40,000 sq ft. For comparison, the David Street Co-op is 3000 sq ft and ASDA Portlethen 70,000 sq ft. The latter also houses a pharmacy, an optician and a travel agent. As a 40,000 sq ft supermarket will probably not include these businesses, the impact is therefore likely to be greater on the wine shop and the butcher.

To my knowledge, no supermarket in this area houses a solicitor/estate agent or a bookies but it may only be a matter of time. I am not saying that these businesses will definitely go to the wall but I do wonder about the wisdom of demanding something without considering all the implications. Do Mr Burton, Ms Bruce and others really want to make trading even more difficult for Stonehaven’s already hard pressed shopkeepers especially when alternative sites that present much less of a threat exist? If people are still not convinced that edge of town retail developments might pose a threat then I suggest they re-read the letter (November 14) from the chairman of M&Co.

Should that fairly large shop be forced to close because of undercutting on price by a supermarket at Ury/Toucks/Mains of Cowie, what sort of business do they envisage taking its place, bearing in mind the 20% trade diversion from the town centre to that edge of/out of town retail development?

Yours etc

Douglas Samways

address supplied