The battle lines have been drawn in two local towns over plans to build new supermarkets. Both Hay-on-Wye and Ledbury are currently in the midst of hard debate, with plans to build the new supermarkets bringing out those both for and against.
In August of last year, Powys Council revealed plans to sell Hay-on-Wye Primary School to developers, which it is believed will pave the way for a new supermarket to be built on the site. As part of the sale agreement, the developer will have to build a new school and community centre, which the council says offers an opportunity for new facilities and services to be provided without cost to the taxpayer.
It has not taken long for fears over the planned new supermarket to surface. On 19th December, around 50 people attended a ‘flash mob’ protest at Powys Council Headquarters, where councillors were meeting to discuss plans to sell off the school site. Protesters used handheld torches to hold a ‘silent light display,’ but councillors used side entrances to avoid the demo. Campaigners gathered in the foyer instead.
Last night, the campaign group that has been organising against the supermarket plans, Plan B, held a public meeting at the school. The plans of the council and the developers were discussed, and attendees heard how a recent survey conducted by the Hay and District Chamber of Commerce revealed that nine out of ten traders in the town were concerned about the prospect of a new town centre supermarket.
In Ledbury, the campaign against a new supermarket has been going on for quite some time now. Last year, Ledbury Opposes Tesco Superstore was formed, opposing the application to build a new Tesco near the by-pass in the town. Petitions were started, posters were displayed in the windows of many high-street shops and a rally attracting over 100 people was held at the Market House when a Ledbury Town Council meeting was held to discuss the plans.
In November Tesco withdrew their application. However, Sainsburys had also entered the race, with plans to build a superstore and petrol station opposite the proposed location for the Tesco site. Opposition continued, and LOTS changed its name to Ledbury Opposes out of Town Superstores. They have stepped up their campaign against any superstores being built, arguing that they would take trade away from the town centre, and destroy the unique, independent character of the town. Recently, Local residents have received leaflets through their doors, and campaigners have been hitting the streets with information stalls, and raising signatures for their petition.
However, another development in the story has recently come about, with campaign group LESS – Ledbury Supports Superstores hitting the ground. LESS, like LOTS, have set up a website, had leaflets and placards printed, which are on display in some parts of the town, and have also raised 1,000 signatures for a petition in favour of the Sainsburys store to be built.
Both sides in the argument are firmly dug in, and both have arguments that will sound very convincing to a large number of people. On the one side, local and independent traders are facing a multi-national company moving onto their doorstep, which they argue will take their custom and change the unique character of the town. On the other, you have the argument that the building of the new store will create much-needed jobs for the town, and offer families cheaper goods and more convenience, at a time when nearly everybody is economising. With this in mind, it is a fair assumption that this battle will go on.
A council meeting to discuss the Sainsburys store application is due to be held on 2nd February at the Market House, Ledbury.
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