UNANIMOUS THUMBS UP FOR DENTS SITE(August 05, 2009)
MORE than 70 Warminster people travelled to Trowbridge on Wednesday evening to see local planners unanimously approve the dramatic redevelopment plan for the Dents site in Fairfield Road.
Their elation was tempered somewhat by news that the proposals will need the final blessing of the Government Office for the South West (GOSW) which will decide whether the proposal needs to be ‘called in’ because the acceptance increases the amount of retail space by a significant amount.
Although planning officials had recommended refusal on the grounds that they preferred a rival site on a ‘sequential test’ even they had to admit that their case was very marginal.
In contrast many local councillors put forward strong and cogent reasons why the plan was begging to be passed.
Councillor Fleur de rhe Philipe pointed out that this scheme was deliverable despite the recession.
“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and this bird is practically on the plate,” she said.
Any lingering doubts about the possibility of the scheme unravelling were dispelled with the news that Waitrose had sent a letter confirming interest and Robert Yentob, the chairman of the Dents’ board, spoke of the long established family firm’s desire to stay in Warminster.
Warminster east councillor Andrew Davis said he had had many comments from the public.
“The public want Waitrose - they don’t care as long as it is Waitrose but the plan is not legally enforceable,” he said.
“I believe that Dents and Waitrose are both well respected companies and it would be silly of them to make the promises they are making and eventually not carry them out.”
He also pointed out that the centre the town had gravitated towards the Dents site with the opening of Lidl, Argos Extra, Focus and Poundstretcher in Fairfield Road in recent years.
The rival plan from Stockland was widely condemned as undeliverable, unappealing and likely to cause huge upheaval if it ever happened - town councillor Tony Field labelled it the ‘Doomsday scenario’ for local shops.
Planning officers, seeing they were on a losing wicket, then reeled off a long list of conditions similar to those applied to the retail development on the other side of the Fairfield Road.
It was then that they revealed the news - not contained in the report - that if the plan was to be approved GOSW would still need to give it a final all clear within 28 days.
Councillor Jonathon Seed likened this news to ‘throwing a hand grenade in after the decision’ and complained that the committee had not been informed of this possibility in the report.
Vision for Warminster’s Steve Dancey, said: “It isn’t often that my faith in people power and democracy is restored but on this occasion it was.
“The news that GOSW might need to be informed was not entirely surprising but I doubt very much whether they will ask for this to be called in.
“Jim Knight, the Weymouth MP, is now the minister for the south west and knows Warminster well as he contested a number of elections here in the early 1990s.