THE house full signs were up at Kirriemuir Town Hall last Wednesday evening (writes Alan Ducat).
But it was no local amateur operatic show or children’s concert.
People had poured into the building, packing into the main hall and filling the gallery, to listen to Angus councillors thrash out the latest bid to create a new supermarket site on the southern outskirts of town.
Before members was a proposal by Guild Homes (Tayside) Limited to demolish Newton Cottage and erect a supermarket with associated car parking, landscaping and improved road layout, including access to employment land to the south of the site.
The application went before councillors with a recommendation of refusal, officials stating that the development is significantly contrary to the provisions of the development plan.
In his report, Eric Lowson, Angus director of infrastructure services, stated that the proposed development would, when considered in conjunction with other developments constructed or with extant planning permission, have an unacceptable impact on the vitality and viability of Kirriemuir and other Angus town centres.
“The application site is located out-of-town and there is an available and suitable edge of centre site capable of accommodating large scale retail development,” added Mr Lowson in his report.
The director argued that the local road network cannot accommodate the proposed development and that the application would result in the permanent loss of prime agricultural land.
“It has not been demonstrated that there is proven public interest and over-riding need for the development which cannot be met within the development boundary.”
But, as “the drama” unfolded in the Town Hall, it soon became evident that the people of Kirriemuir were overwhelmingly behind the proposal.
The only real opposition from the floor came from representatives of local company J. & D. Wilkie, whose Gairie Works site was given the go-ahead to be converted into a supermarket on appeal to the Scottish Government.
The meeting opened with a presentation by officials which laid the background for the debate that was to follow, the meeting learning that Kirriemuir loses some 70% of its retail trade to Forfar, Dundee and elsewhere.
It was also explained that the Guild Homes proposal had attracted 1208 individual letters of representation - 1132 of them in support and just 76 against.
Those in support stated that Kirriemuir needs a supermarket, that the Pathhead site is safer for access and parking and that it is the best site in Kirriemuir for a modern supermarket fit to serve the town.
Those against argued that there is insufficient retail capacity for the proposed supermarket, there could be better sites available, there is a need to protect the town centre and that there is inaccessibility to those in the town without a car.
Speaking on behalf of Kirriemuir Community Council, chairman Roland Proctor said his members had come down heavily in favour of the proposal.
“Our own survey showed 56% in favour of the Pathhead plans, 27% against and 17% undecided.
“The feeling was that Kirriemuir needed another supermarket to provide choice and that Pathhead was the right site.
“We felt that another supermarket would stop the haemorrhage from town at the weekends and would attract people from the surrounding area and other towns into Kirriemuir.
“Another supermarket would provide competition and give the people of our town value for money.”
Support also came from Ivan Laird, speaking on behalf of Kirriemuir Landward East Community Council.
He, too, said competition was badly needed and that shoppers coming from deep in the glens were finding it expensive enough to travel for the weekly shop without having to go that extra five miles to Forfar.
The rafters nearly came off the roof when Mike Ivy, a local resident argued that the proposal be given the green light.
“The population of Kirriemuir is continuing to grow and its people deserve better than the report before us is offering.
“It talks about the site as prime farmland yet it has been grazed by horses for the past 20 years.”
Bob Low of J. & D. Wilkie LImited told the meeting that a major operator was interested in the Gairie Works site but will not commit until the decision of Pathhead was made. He said there was no capacity for two new stores in the town.
In response, Councillor Ian Mackintosh said he was sure there was a bit of frustration in the town that no full planning approval for the Gairie Works site had come forward, although the applicants have until November 2013 to make a submission.
Speaking on behalf of the application, Mark Guild said what was being proposed was big enough to be viable today, big enough to be viable tomorrow and easily accessed by bus, car, foot and large delivery lorries.
“A major supermarket at Pathhead would provide a once in a lifetime opportunity for 200 jobs in Kirriemuir, with people being able to walk to work.
“In nearby Forfar, even with the arrival of Asda it appears all the shops in the main streets are full. Why should Kirriemuir be any different?”
Mr Guild also argued that there were very few objectors to his proposal.
“There can be no question of how clearly and unequivocally the public have demonstrated there is an overwhelming public need for this development.”
Local councillor Ian Mackintosh said the decision to be made was one of the most difficult and important ones he has had to make in 17 years as a councillor.
“Let’s be in no doubt that the decision will have a huge bearing on the prosperity or otherwise of this town in the future.”
Iain Gaul said the Forfar town centre had been revitalised since the arrival of Asda.
“If it works in Forfar, why wouldn’t it work in Kirriemuir?”
Councillor Alison Andrews said she would like to see Kirriemuir thriving as a retail centre for west Angus.
“The abstract idea of a supermarket on the edge of town is brilliant.”
Councillors David Lumgair and Peter Nield proposed and seconded the motion that the application be refused, but, in the vote that followed, an amendment, proposed by Alison Andrews and seconded by Bob Myles was carried by 18 votes to five - a decision that almost brought the Town Hall roof down.