I suggest that the headline fact concerning the dreadful District Council Corporate Committee meeting (13 September) should have been that the result (9 votes to 6) could have been reversed had the three Matlock members Cllrs Geoff and Jacquie Stevens and Barry Tipping, all Conservatives of course, opposed the Davidson bid for a new town centre comprising a mammoth store, a budget hotel and a handful of large shops.
I was incensed by the attitude of some Tory councillors at the meeting but even more so when I read in your report that Council Leader Lewis Rose is now suggesting that Matlock has room for a 38,000sq ft foodstore without affecting existing stores and would provide shoppers with more not less choice. Surely it is inevitable that such a large ‘foodstore’ (hardly a credible or accurate definition of what is really a ‘superstore’ half as big again as the present Sainsbury’s store) would lead to the closure of our smaller food shops, as well as the Co-op, which is what both Cllr Sue Burfoot (All Saints Ward member, but not on that Committee) and Helen Cunningham (from Transition Matlock) told the meeting. Matlock Civic Association also maintained their close involvement in all planning matters over the last 30 years with detailed objections to the officer report and recommendation.
Your report omitted to mention Cllr David Jones (Deputy Mayor of Matlock) whose presentation to the meeting concentrated on the complete failure of most of the submitted bids, especially that from Henry Davidson’s, to comply in any way with the adopted SPD for the town centre, which was adopted back in 2008. Nothing in what is proposed now suggests any public benefit being achieved and the Committee’s decision was purely a financial one.
Along with Town Council colleagues at the time, as well as other stakeholder groups and individuals, I spent countless hours in protracted discussions and consultation responses over several years, before the final version of the SPD blueprint was agreed. In fact, as long ago as 2006, Liberal Democrat councillors commended most of the key proposals in the document, including more pedestrian routes; the need to exploit the Bakewell Road riverside location and attract more High Street shops; the extension of the present rooftop car park; and the importance of providing an enhanced public realm.
I believe that the controlling Conservatives on the Council have misled us all in several respects, particularly their assurances about full public consultation and their power to dictate the course of events as a major landowner. Surely the third party landowners have the power to delay the development, as Lib Dem Leader Cllr David Fearn told the meeting, unless their ‘unrealistic valuations’ are met, or a new scheme excluding their part of the site is proposed.
It is also difficult to believe that the council’s invitation to six potential developers to tender has been either fair or not seriously flawed, since it is now claimed that the winning bid will be substituted for one which is more SPD compliant. Should that be the case it will obviously be necessary to jettison Davidson’s present bid.
Finally, I suspect that most of us who are now objecting to the Council’s decision are sufficiently realistic to appreciate that a supermarket will have to comprise part of the eventual development scheme, albeit considerably smaller than what is proposed now and preferably one which will attract a niche market.
All we can hope is that the development partner adopted on 13 September will tear up their proposals, have a complete re-think and come up with a plan which is more akin to the SPD and on which we will all be consulted.