“TOWN CENTRE FOR SALE”
Written by Aileen MacNicol Friday, 01 April 2011 09:00
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The application for a supermarket on the site currently occupied by Walkers garden centre was initially discussed by councillors on March 16.
Members of the local authority planning committee agreed to postpone a decision until after a full hearing, which has been confirmed for Friday April 8 in the Queen’s Hall, Dunoon.
This will follow a site visit and inspection earlier that morning.
Planning officers have recommended refusal, saying: “The proposal to site a major foodstore in an out of town location could have the potential to undermine and potentially harm the character and status of Dunoon town centre as an established traditional town centre location and function.”
This view is shared by some local retailers, who have been meeting together to discuss the situation - and are looking to form a retailers’ association, not simply to protest against this proposal but to work for the improvement of Dunoon town centre.
Dinah MacDonald of Bookpoint is one of the shopkeepers involved. She told the Standard: “We are concerned that if this goes ahead, we will see businesses having to put up ‘For Sale’ signs - and in effect, Dunoon town centre will be up for sale.
“When you look at other places where something similar has happened, the town centres have died. We don’t want to see that happening in Dunoon.
“Locals and tourists alike enjoy and want independent shops which add character to a town centre.”
Applicants CWP and their agents insist that their planned development will bring jobs to Dunoon and will not have a detrimental effect on local stores - claiming that another ‘big four’ supermarket will stop leakage out of the town’s economy if people no longer have to cross the Clyde for shopping.
A spokesman for CWP said: “We look forward to putting our case for a full size supermarket for Dunoon.
“Our proposals would bring a £20 million investment and 280 new local jobs, and would go some way to stem the economic leakage estimated to be one third of main food shopping outwith Dunoon and Cowal.
“Our plans have considerable support from the local community and we would encourage supporters to come along to the public hearing.”
Those who have expressed support for the proposals cite increased choice, lower prices, cheaper fuel and the prospect of local jobs among their reasons.
But another dimension to the issue is the fact that National Grid, which owns the former gas works site on Hamilton Street, Dunoon, has also expressed an interest in submitting its own retail development planning application.
CWP is understood to have concerns about the Hamilton Street site on grounds of size.
But planning officers have said that this location is “sequentially preferable” as it is closer to the main town centre - and again, some shopkeepers and the planners appear to be in agreement.
Dinah MacDonald continued: “The gas works site would be fine - it is really part of the town centre, although the existing supermarkets would understandably not be too keen.”
She added: “Local retailers are aware of what needs to be done to improve standards in Dunoon and this is why we are keen to establish a retail association. We are not being defeatist and we don’t want to just speak out against this supermarket - we want to raise the standards in Dunoon.
“People may argue that shops are not open on Sundays or late at night, but for retailers it is something of a chicken and egg situation - if the shops are not visited and used at these times, then they cannot open - and so on.
“There are things that retailers recognise they have to do, and we are looking at this, but we do fear for the future of the town centre if this development goes ahead.”
Both sides of Dunoon’s ‘supermarket debate’ have lodged letters and petitions of support or objection, and the hearing next Friday is expected to be well attended.
Councillors will visit both the Walkers and Hamilton Street sites in the morning before the hearing commences in the Queen’s Hall, Dunoon at 10.15am.