Fears for future of town centre

Councillor Glennis Middleton
Councillor Glennis Middleton

REPEATED pleas to ensure Forfar town centre shop-keepers had a future fell on deaf ears last Thursday when the go-ahead was given to the ASDA superstore.

Local councillors Colin Brown, a member of the development standards committee, and fellow Forfar councillor Glennis Middleton, who addressed the meeting, spoke out against the proposals whilst local businessman Charles Jarvis spoke in defence of the town’s current independent retailers.

Among the letters of objection sent to the council were those from Mr Jarvis and his near neighbour in Castle Street, R Doig & Son.

Mr Richard Doig wrote: “Another large supermarket in the town could and probably would cause more shops to close; the last thing needed in the present financial climate is a town centre full of premises lying empty.”

His concerns were backed up by Mr Jarvis who said in his letter: “The addition of another supermarket in the town will prejudice the survival of the town centre which, like many town centres, is fragile.”

Addressing councillors last Thursday, Mr Jarvis questioned the figures obtained in a retail impact assessment submitted with the application.

He highlighted the need for the development plan to safegaurd the vitality and viability of the town centre, as defined by the Angus Local Plan Review.

He said: “There has been very little vitality in the last few years the length and breadth of Britain. Turn-over has already dropped.”

He listed the loss of a number of high street shops in Forfar town centre - Woolworths, Victoria Wine, Clinton Cards, pubs were struggling and the Royal Hotel had closed.

There were five charity shops, a Factory Shop, a Lidl and Aldi and he asked “just how much more retail development can Forfar take?”

He questioned the figure given for the retail impact on the town centre which was predicted to be less than 2% and added: “To grant permission for this proposal would be an absolute disaster for the retailers who give so much customer satisfaction.”

Whilst Forfar councillor Glennis Middleton realised people wanted the choice of where to shop, she had “genuine concerns” for the implications the ASDA store would have on town centre shops.

She felt the impact would be “significant” and as such the decision should have been put to the full meeting of Angus Council.

She raised concerns about traffic levels along St James Road with two G.P. surgeries, a primary school and residential properties all in the vicinity.

She questioned the figures of £30,000 and £8,000 respectively being asked from ASDA under the Section 75 Agreement, attached to the recommendation of approval, for improvement to the traffic light system at the West Port Junction and the improvement of existing open space provision in Forfar.

She said: “Forfar is being sold for £38,000. If we are going to have this store then those in St James Road, Lour Road, New Road and Dundee Loan will all suffer.

“Surely to goodness the compensation should be more than £30,000 for a set of traffic lights and £8,000 for open spaces?”

She felt traffic coming from Kirriemuir or Brechin would not use the traffic lights but would, instead, travel along Castle Street (which is about to be made one-way), up West High Street and New Road.

She warned: “Castle Street will become a corridor from one supermarket to the other which will be detrimental to the town centre.”

She also warned of a decrease in trade for Forfar’s popular independent shops and also questioned the quoted figure of a loss of less than 2% in trade in the town centre, stating this did not take into account the current recession.

She predicted chaos on the roads with people travelling to the ASDA store from other Angus towns including Kirriemuir, Brechin and Arbroath, and, whilst a traffic assessment had been carried out, she claimed it was more of a “desk-top exercise.”

She continued: “This is not a for or against Tesco or ASDA. I do not believe Forfar can accommodate two supermarkets at either end of this “corridor”, with very little in the middle. I hope members will take cognisance of my concerns which are shared by many people in Forfar.”

When asked what evidence she had that those visiting Forfar to shop in ASDA would not walk into the town centre, Mrs Middleton stated she had carried out a straw poll of independent shop-keepers who had “very real fears”.

“Nobody believes people will go to the supermarket and will then wander into town - they will do their shopping and leave.

“The independent shop-keepers I spoke to feel they are “between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

Speaking to the Dispatch and Herald after the meeting, Councillor Middleton reiterated her “very real concerns” for the future of Forfar’s independent retailers.

“We have Tesco at one end of Castle Street, effectively ASDA at the other end selling a wide range of goods. It’s not just ‘the butcher and the baker’ who I think will suffer. I think there will be a detrimental effect on M & Co., because ASDA will no doubt be selling clothes; it will no doubt affect Turret, again a well used shop in the town just now. Every service that is currently on Castle Street and West and East High Street will be now be available between the two major supermarkets.

“It cannot have anything other than a detrimental effect. I really don’t care what anyone says. If you go to a strange town to visit a supermarket, in general terms you do your shopping; you don’t have a wander down the street. I think what will happen is people will visit one of the two supermarkets and go home.”

Turning to the level of traffic using St James Road, and the decision to move the bus bay across the road from Strathmore Primary School, councillor Middleton added: “I am absolutely horrified that anyone would consider moving the drop-off point for school children for the buses from one side of the street to the other; not only from one side of the street to the other but actually beyond the New Road which will be the main exit and entrance for the supermarket.

“I think officers have done their desk-top exercise, they have done their assessments according to the rules which are in force and they have ticked all the boxes.

“This is not about being for one supermarket and against the other. This is about looking at the reality of having two major supermarkets in Forfar, plus all the other convenience stores, and the Abbeygate, and thinking this is not really good for Forfar as a whole, for the town centre.

“It may well benefit people for their choice of shopping, but I don’t think it will be good for Forfar in the long term. I suspect we may well lose the Abbeygate in the future.”

Mrs Middleton’s concerns were backed by fellow councillor Colin Brown who tried to block the application but did not receive a backer.

He told the meeting: “As a local member my concern is the location - in probably the most congested part of the town.”

He spoke of the level of HGVs using St James Road and stated Forfar already had the choice of six supermarket-type shops - he didn’t think there was a need for another.

“I would not like to see the heart of our town disappear and I feel this could be the death knell for the shops there.”

He didn’t want to see the town centre become deserted and added: “Without people you do not have a town centre.

“The only positive is that this new store would be competition for the existing large store in town, but I don’t believe the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.”