Shaftesbury residents will be asked for suggestions on how the former Budgens store on Bell Street could be redeveloped.
At the end of this month, the Council may bid for the empty supermarket. And on Tuesday, Shaftesbury Town Council formally asked its new Economic Development Advisory Committee, or EDAC, to undertake a feasibility study on purchasing the 0.3-hectare site. EDAC is a group of volunteers who will research ideas to develop Shaftesbury’s economy and present their recommendations to the Town Council.
EDAC Chairman, Jackie Upton King, has 20 years of experience delivering community projects. Jackie oversaw the redevelopment of Sturminster Newton’s cattle market. The town gained The Exchange, a supermarket, affordable housing and a health centre because of her project.
“I think we’re looking at a new dawn in the way our Town Council works with the community,” Jackie said. “This committee is community-based and advises on ‘the direction of travel’. It is a genuine community partnership with the Town Council.”
Shaftesbury Town Council’s Business Manager, Brie Logan, is supporting the EDAC group and she says they are looking at what other towns have achieved. “It’s about how we drive a sustainable future for this town. We’re taking lessons from the past, what has worked and what has not worked. We’re also looking at best practice in other communities.”
Bids for the supermarket site will need to be submitted at the end of November. The EDAC volunteers have approximately three weeks to seek expert, professional advice from valuers, surveyors, architects and an economic development consultant. Then, they will write a report and make a recommendation to councillors.
On 27th November, the Town Council will decide whether there’s a sound business case for bidding for the empty supermarket. Mayor Piers Brown urged his colleagues to ‘scrutinise every last point’ contained in the report. “We can’t afford to get it wrong,” he advised. Piers cautioned that the Council and the community are going to ‘have to take on a risk’, adding his belief that the councillors’ role was to ‘balance the risk against reward’.
Cllr Philip Proctor felt that the site would have worth. If the Council bought the land and it wasn’t developed, it could still be put back on the market and there ‘wouldn’t be any loss of face’.
Deputy Mayor, Lester Taylor, said that if the EDAC group’s figures stack up, the site will offer potential. “This town is going to benefit greatly if we can get this through,” Lester said.
If a bid is successful, the Town Council would own the freehold and a not-for-profit body would manage day-to-day operations related to the site. “The Council does not have the capability of running such a large project in the long term. We can facilitate it and get it off the ground,” Lester said.
If the Council decides to bid, they’ll need to secure a loan. “The Town Council hasn’t got a big pot of money,” said Lester. “We are going to have to go out to get some finance. We will have to pay that back with some interest. Anything that we put in a building has got to be able to finance that loan.”
The EDAC group is putting together detailed costings for the business plans. One option is to adapt the current building to new uses, but the group is also calculating costs for demolishing the old store and building a bespoke property. An asbestos survey needs to be undertaken and if it is found, the costs of removal will need to be factored in. They’re also looking at grants.
With so many variables, it’s currently too early to look at potential uses. But later this month, locals will be asked what they would like to see on the site. “Community engagement is the most important element of all of this,” said Jackie. “We will take responses seriously and we will assess the viability and popularity with the community.”
“It really matters that the Council listens to the voices of the community,” added Brie. “The people who live in this town have got some fantastic ideas.”
As soon as residents have shared their suggestions, external advisors will help the group shortlist the most viable proposals. The site could be developed for multiple uses. “Any decisions that are made to take this forward need to be perfectly commercially focused, hard edged and deliverable. We can’t take the chance that we would waste either public, community or charitable money on a white elephant project. This has to stand on its own. The feasibility work that we are undertaking now will ensure that this project is not a risk to the public purse. It is crucial to the decision that will be made, whether or not to ‘push the button’ and start things happening,” said Jackie.
EDAC Vice-chairman Jemma Ricketts says it’s vital that that ‘Project Belle’ meets local demand. “I think as long as you offer what the public wants and needs there will be prosperity in the community. It can be good for the whole area and more importantly good for the residents of Shaftesbury.”
Jackie said that no residents have been asked for ideas yet. “It is too premature to talk to people locally about anything. We will be going out to community consultation later in November. At that point, we will be contacting everybody in the town to ensure that they have a chance to have their say.”
If the project is successful Lester hopes that, one day, it could generate income for additional community initiatives. “In years to come, when we pay that loan back, can you imagine what we can do with the income from that? We could reinvest it and if a massive project came up, then we’ve got something to mortgage, to fund something bigger.”
Of course the sums may not add up. The Council could change its mind and decide not to bid, or be outbid by a commercial developer. Lester remains philosophical. “If our bid is rejected, we are learning skills for next time. They will be ‘put in the bank,’” he said. EDAC will continue to look at additional ideas, whether Project Belle moves to the next step or not.
About the Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC)
- The Chairman is Jackie Upton King, MBE. Jackie also serves as Honorary Secretary of Shaftesbury Civic Society.
- The Vice Chairman is Jemma Ricketts, owner of Enchanted Plants.
- Chartered Surveyor Tim Edwyn Jones also chairs the Neighbourhood Plan.
- Bill Walsh and Norman King are both experienced property developers.
- David Perry is owner of Shaftesbury Wines and Chairman of Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce.
- Julia Markus is a Business Outreach Officer specialising in adult education.
- Anna McDowell, BEM is Chairman of the Swan’s Trust.
- Kirsty Schmidt is Manager of the Grosvenor Arms Hotel.
- Keri Jones is Chair of the VEAC tourism committee.
- Shaftesbury Town Mayor Piers Brown has been part of Project Belle meetings, along with Deputy Mayor, Lester Taylor.