A proposed hand car wash at Shaftesbury Football Club has split opinion on the Town Council. Members were unable to agree a position on the application following a confused Planning meeting, dominated by lease discussions.
Steve Coffen is Chairman of Shaftesbury Football Club and he has a plan to boost his club’s income. “A corner of land that is grass is going to be used to wash cars, because we’ve actually lost that from a really good position at the old cattle market,” said Steve.
He wants to replace grass in front of the club’s changing rooms with a hard surface. New parking spaces would be created for a hand car wash, operated by Ali Alan, who managed the Cattle Market facility that closed when Lidl bought the land.
The car wash application was given a lengthy debate during last Tuesday’s Planning and Highways meeting. Whilst Cllrs Phil Proctor and Matthew Welch spoke in support of the plans, Cllr Peter Yeo was one member who objected.
“I was not a great fan of the idea because this is a football club, already busy with its social club and football activities. I don’t think it is a large enough area to have a car wash,” said Peter, adding, “We all know how successful the car wash was at the Cattle Market site. Everyone, including myself, enjoyed using it. It is not the right location to have a car wash with large amounts of cars coming and going.”
Cllr Alex Chase said he favoured the Football Club, “looking at options to exploit the land” but he warned that a car wash on Coppice Street would be rated, “anywhere from a poor to a really irresponsible idea.” Alex’s concern is traffic. Cllr Andy Hollingshead wasn’t present at the meeting but had sent his estimate of vehicle movements at the former Christy’s Lane car wash to Chairman Cllr John Lewer, who informed the meeting that up to seventy cars a day could be expected, based on Andy’s calculations.
Prospective operator Mr Alan disagreed, because he says Coppice Street is not such a high-profile location. “It is going to be 100% less – 25 to 30 cars. On the busiest day, probably 40,” Ali said. John Lewer read out part of the planning application, which stated that four staff would work seven days a week, between 9am and 6pm.
Steve Coffen spoke up, explaining that football matches would still take priority. “We’re going to manage that, between the tenant and us, to make it work. Not a lot of people park in the car park. We don’t have massive attendances. I appreciate that if we go up through the league then we might do. It’s an amicable relationship between both parties. We put in the lease that on Saturday afternoons, reduced hours might come into play. That’s something that the tenant and the football club would then discuss,” said Steve.
Mr Coffen went on to remind Town councillors that Dorset Highways had raised no objection to the plans. “Highways have accepted it and they are happy for the car wash to proceed with the application,” he said.
It was evident that not all councillors had read Highway’s response, including the meeting Chairman. Highway’s statement, posted on the Dorset Council’s Planning website, was then displayed to everyone in the meeting using an overhead projector.
Cllr Chase argued that the Highways opinion was irrelevant. It was for Dorset Council officers and members to take into account. Shaftesbury Town councillors could disagree, as they were offering their own observation of the site, Alex said.
“They don’t live in Shaftesbury. They live miles away in Dorchester. They haven’t got an idea of how popular the car wash was. They probably don’t realise that the lane is already busy enough. There are problems with cars passing already,” said Peter Yeo.
“We should not be working on the basis of following Highways,” added Cllr Chase, who believes that their safety assessments, “are generally only concerned with whether anybody has been killed on the road.”
Cllr Piers Brown said he understood traffic concerns, but Highways’ appraisal was significant in planning terms. He urged members to support the application because, “the long-term sustainability of the Football Club is imperative to this community and the health and well-being of a colossal chunk of our young people.”
Cllr Chase later shifted his stance and said that he wouldn’t object to the application if a mandatory left-turn for all vehicles leaving the football club and the adjacent car park could be stipulated. Some councillors felt this was unenforceable and Alex’s proposal wasn’t supported further.
Cllr Proctor wanted consideration of nearby neighbours, suggesting screening both to contain noise and for aesthetic reasons. Steve Coffen was receptive to that idea. “We’re always improving the appearance of the Football Club and to put a fence across to stop the sound, if that is requested, is something that we would do.”
There was confusion when a member of the public spoke to oppose the plans, as a representative of the Royal British Legion. It became clear that he was not commenting from a position of authority after Town Council Business Manager, Brie Logan, read out a letter of support from the Legion who, as the Football Club’s neighbours, backed and endorsed the car wash plan.
The session then lost its focus as the Planning Meeting strayed into the non-planning consideration of lease arrangements. Shaftesbury Football Club has agreed to lease the Town Council’s land. In June, the club received permission from Town Council officers to proceed with the car wash application. Shaftesbury FC intends to sub-let space to the car wash operator.
“We’ve got a 30-year lease. The Council has agreed in a previous meeting to accept the car wash use there. We have that on file. We’ve worked positively together, and I don’t want to tarnish that by saying they don’t support us,” said Steve Coffen. “I just feel that they want to micromanage something that they’ve allowed professionals, on their behalf, to discuss.”
Meeting Chairman John Lewer was dissatisfied that councillors had not debated lease arrangements. He wanted the agreement discussed in the future. And Cllr Peter Yeo wanted to know what the Town Council could do to stop the car wash from using the land it has leased, if traffic volumes increased. “Will we have the power to say, sorry mate, we’re closing you down?” asked Peter.
Town Clerk Claire Commons and Cllr Proctor both pointed out that the meeting had veered into considering matters unconnected with planning application. Claire advised that lease discussions ‘needed to be taken out of the meeting’. ‘We need to look at this piece of land and look at it objectively,” she warned.
Speaking afterwards, Cllr Yeo accepted that his comments fell outside the planning remit. “You’re right in way. It’s not exactly directly related to planning, but we’re in the unusual position of being the owners of the land. We lease it to the Football Club. There was no clarity on what our position was and whether we could stop the Football Club from operating a car wash after six months if it caused major problems. That’s another reason why I didn’t support it,” said Peter.
Whether councillors reached their individual conclusions on planning grounds or other considerations, the outcome of a series of proposals and votes was deadlock. No agreement was reached. The Town Council neither backed, nor objected to, the proposal. It will fall upon Dorset councillors or their officers to make the decision. They always have the final say as the planning authority but in this case, they will determine the application without Shaftesbury’s council expressing an opinion.
Steve Coffen was philosophical about the outcome. “It just seems that every time, they want to go back to the lease and the running of the Football Club. I would like to say thanks for the opportunity to speak in the meeting. I think it had genuine support throughout. I just believe the objections were for the wrong reasons. They were not for the planning application itself,” said Steve.
Peter Yeo says he might not have objected to the car wash if he had knowledge of the Council’s rights as site owner. “I wouldn’t rule it out. If you’re going to get into a legal agreement, which may cause major problems to traffic flow in that part of Shaftsbury, you need to know what the legal way out of it was.”
During the debate over the Coppice Street car wash proposals, some Town councillors said that they were acting in the best interest of the town. The irony is that, by not reaching a decision locally, this emotive issue will now be entirely determined out-of-town, 28 miles down the road, in Dorchester.