Malton Town Centre Renaissance Study. Comment By Business In Action
The public consultation of 29th & 30th August was undertaken as a direct consequence of the failure of the District Council Steering Group to engage with local residents & the business community & therefore to reach any meaningful conclusions. The abandoned Steering Group process in itself wasted 4 months in moving Malton forward.
As a result, Malton continues to find itself in a state of uncertainty, which makes it difficult & unappealing for existing businesses as well as those wishing to invest in the town.
That said, the recent consultation did seem to be successful in engaging the local population & RDC should be congratulated on the standard of the video & displays provided which helped to generate a strong response with over 1500 questionnaires returned. There is much speculation & rumour regarding the financial cost of conducting this exercise & we believe that RDC should disclose this information in order to avoid further speculation.
We applaud the fact that the people of Ryedale - those whom the outcome of this process will effect the most - have been given an opportunity to have their say. Some comment was made suggesting that the phrasing of some questions was likely to have too great an influence on the responses. Also, it was felt that a little “creative editing” had been employed in the production of the video, with some comments being used out of context. We would therefore encourage RDC to entrust the evaluation & analysis of the results to an independent body to avoid any allegations of misinterpretation.
We must now move forward & work with the data that we have to determine the best future for Malton. There will never be consensus on the more controversial proposals but we need strong leadership within RDC to make decisions based on expert reports & public opinion. It is imperative that the Councillors set aside their political differences & move forward with proposals based on properly debated recommendations of the Officers of the Council.
We would appeal to RDC to concentrate on the key issues of the redevelopment of the Livestock Market & the supermarket offer before dedicating time & resources to pedestrianisation etc.
On this basis we have concentrated our resources on debating the issues around the two key sites identified within the report, the current Livestock Centre & Wentworth Street car park. The futures of these two sites are inextricably linked & the development options they present will undoubtedly have the most significant impact on Malton’s economy in the future.
The redevelopment of the Livestock Market area presents a key opportunity to contribute to Malton’s economy by improving the town’s retail offer. Fitzwilliam Estate have a planning application awaiting determination for a mixed residential & retail scheme which is very close in its composition to the RDC proposal presented at the consultation. If Fitzwilliam are not mindful to push for a decision on this application, then RDC should work more closely with them to formulate a compromise solution that can be moved forward. It is noted, however, that this scheme may be unviable if RDC continue to pursue the possibility of a superstore on Wentworth Street at some point in the future. This only adds to the uncertainty within the town, and effectively sidelines the chances of this scheme becoming reality even if Planning Approval is granted.
It is generally, although not universally, accepted that the best solution for Malton is to relocate the Livestock Centre to Showfield Lane. Fitzwilliam & Bolton & Cooper are nearing agreement on an extension to the existing lease to allow the Livestock Market to operate the current site for a further 3-5 years. All credit to Fitzwilliam for moving forward with this which will allow time for the planning & relocation of the livestock centre to the Showfield Lane site. Boulton & Cooper, the Fitzwilliam Trust Corporation & RDC must now work closely together to move this scheme forward so that we do not find ourselves in the same position in 5 years time. There is a huge amount of ground work to be done here & we recognise that any viability study is not being helped by the current economic climate but we would appeal to the stakeholders to move this forward so that the Town can look at a relocation as soon as possible to allow the current Town centre site, which is an utter eyesore, to be developed to benefit Malton’s economy as a whole.
The question of Wentworth Street car park is a more contentious issue with emotions running high on both sides. It is important that Malton moves up the retail ranking for the benefit of businesses & residents alike & that the £90million / year retail expenditure leakage is stemmed. But is a Superstore the answer?
BIA believes that to sell off much needed car parking space for a 30,000 sq foot supermarket is wrong for Malton. It will potentially have an adverse effect on the business of current traders, will jeopardise the viability of the redevelopment of the current Livestock market where the anchor store will be a high class smaller supermarket, more akin to the needs & aspirations of the public. It will lead to the reduction of car parking space by 40% when groups are working hard to attract more visitors to the Town & when Wentworth Street is earmarked for overflow car parking for the new market on Showfield Lane. It is also believed that the site is between 5-15 years from development so our time & resources should be put into other areas for the shorter term gain of the Town.
Additionally, we believe that the benefit to the local economy of an additional supermarket is questionable. We acknowledge that some employment would be created. Obviously there will be a sizeable financial windfall to the landowners (RDC) and additional ongoing income in the form of business rates. But the big winners will be the store operators, & as they are not based in the area and use few local suppliers the majority of the revenue raised will be lost to Ryedale and its residents. Thus, the leakage is effectively stemmed but with little benefit to the local economy.
On a social front we believe that it would be fundamentally wrong to sell out our market town heritage. Instead we should build on that heritage to become a recognised destination for quality goods & produce from a variety of traders, both independent & branded, with a strong emphasis on food & local produce.
Business In Action
16 September 2008