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Issue 315 – Anti-supermarket sentiments dominate Saxonvale meeting

concern over proposals for a new town centre supermarket on the Saxonvale site dominated a packed meeting last week.

St James Investments (SJI), who are the developers for the site, are proposing a supermarket of approximately 40,000 square feet and potentially another 40,000 square feet of additional retail space.
It is widely believed that the supermarket in question is Tesco, however, SJI are not yet able to confirm who the supermarket will be.
The public meeting on Wednesday 1st December was chaired by Luke Wilde, chair of the patrons of Black Swan Arts. The panel consisted of Quentin Webster, a development manager for St James Investments, Graham Burgess of the Frome Civic Society, former Frome resident Elisabeth Winkler, a ‘No Tesco in Stokes Croft’ campaigner in Bristol, and John Harris, Guardian columnist.
Many raised concerns that Frome’s unique character would be destroyed by the domination of a major supermarket in the town centre, a point highlighted by John Harris. “If a town of 25,000 has six supermarkets already, I think its reasonable to ask why it needs another?” he said. “If what we eventually get is the kind of supermarket that doesn’t just sell food but sells books and newspapers and flowers and newspapers and toys, what will that do to the businesses in this town that already specialise in those things?
“This town is different, it isn’t what you call a clone town, it has a lot of independent shops and businesses and all that contributes to a really creative imaginative atmosphere. It strikes me that if a development of the kind we are talking about comes to Frome, all that will be under dire threat.”
Quentin Webster of St James Investments argued that a supermarket and free parking would create a draw to the town centre. He emphasised that plans were at an early stage and promised a consultation is to come.
“At this stage, this is not a Tesco issue, we’re talking about principles on a wider scale,” he said. “As for size and scale of the development we are talking with local landowners but in terms of the rumours there are no contracts in place with any local landowners, we’re talking to people about ideas and concepts at the moment and actually you’re beating us to the punch because we want to start a public consultation process before any plans are developed.”
He added, “We want to know what the people of Frome want, what’s in keeping with Frome.”
Graham Burgess of the Frome Civic Society warned that it was unlikely that a planning application would be turned down by authorities, and was amongst those who insisted that a plan for the future of the Saxonvale site – ideally without a supermarket – was needed. “St James are making all the right noises about public consultation, we should at least try and engage with them,” he said. “If it doesn’t deliver, then the campaign starts. We ought to at least use that consultation to get something for the town centre.”
There will another meeting in early January, details of which are yet to be confirmed. In the meantime, www.saxonvalesupermarket.blogspot.com will continue to provide a forum for people to voice their comments.

Frome featured in national report

FROME town was recently featured in an online video report from national newspaper giant the Guardian.

The report, titled ‘Will neoliberalism eat my town?’ was complied by Guardian journalist and Frome resident John Harris and features stories from Frome Times.
The online report reviews Frome’s economic struggle including the “…hack back of publicly funded community life” and the proposal for a new supermarket and retail complex on the Saxonvale site.
John said, “Frome has a really vibrant, interesting, local atmosphere which is part of the reason of why I moved here. But also, as with a lot of Britain at the moment, there are a hell of a lot of things that are under threat. For a flavour of that look no further than this week’s (Issue No. 513; Thursday 11th November) Frome Times.”
The report continues by noting the public concern over the possible closure of the library following consultation and the Merlin Theatre voicing their view on the Somerset County Council arts funding cuts.
John continues, “A great steamroller of what people call market capitalism has tended to squash places like this.
“I came to live here because of the creative, interesting, vibrant kind of place Frome is, just over a year on – this is still true. But a lot of it feels that bit more fragile, why is that? Well it’s mainly because of the social changes that have taken place in Britain over the past 15 or 20 years have been taken into overdrive by a government that tells us it’s radical, progressive and liberal. Liberal; an interesting word to think about because I think what I worry about is neoliberalism eating my town.”
To view the full report and read comments left by other viewers visit www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/video/2010/nov/30/john-harris-frome-neoliberalism
• What are your views about the issues in the report? Voice your opinion by calling the Frome Times on 01225 704761 or email frometimes@btconnect.com or search for us on facebook and add your thoughts to the comments section.

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