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Issue 348 – New player in the Saxonvale saga

development of the Saxonvale site in Frome took an unexpected twist following the announcement that Frontier Estates has bought up a significant part of the site – the Notts Industries section. When the news broke at the end of a special Question Time event, staged solely to talk about the Saxonvale project, there was disappointment that it had not been announced earlier, to allow discussion. Now, however, members of local campaign groups say that they are looking forward and welcome extensive consultation with the company.Founder of the Frome for All group, Michael Rhodes, said the announcement from Frontier Estates that they had purchased land on the Saxonvale site was a surprise but could be beneficial for Frome. He said, “I was surprised by the news announced towards the end of the Question Time event. The announcement  changes little for us, at least in the short term.  We will continue to campaign for a substantial town centre development so that local people can do much more of their shopping in the town centre and reduce our town’s heavy reliance on out of town stores and the need for regular shopping trips to other towns by many residents.  We will also continue to advocate good quality design and a development that integrates well with the existing town centre.“I certainly hope that this announcement proves to be good news for our town and means that something positive will happen sooner rather than later on this largely derelict site in the heart of our town.”

Surprised

Luke Wilde of the Keep Frome Local group said that although the manner of delivering the news had been upsetting for many, the group wanted to look forward. He said, “The announcement that Notts have signed a contract with Frontier Estates, coming as it did at the end of the Question Time meeting, has surprised and upset many people. I think people feel disrespected, and I think this leaves Frontier in a position where they have some way to go to establish trust with people in the town. “That said, I take the view that there is a new player in the game and we look forward to seeing what proposals they bring forward and how they interpret the Mendip Planning Brief.”

Tesco and others

Frontier Estates, based in Milton Keynes, was established in 1996 and according to their website, has completed over 120 projects across all sectors of the market including retail, offices, industrial, distribution, residential and hotels. Occupiers of Frontier projects include Tesco, Waitrose, Lidl, Costco, Wickes, Cafe Rouge, Blanc Brasserie and Lock Fyne.The surprise announcement that a sale of part of the Saxonvale site had been agreed with Frontier Estates, stunned the audience at the end of the second Frome Question Time event, which was held last Tuesday at Wesley Church.The event, which was organised by Frome Town councillor, James Godman, was devoted solely to a discussion on the future of the Saxonvale site. It was nearing the end of its allotted hour when the chairman, Andrew Lee, announced that the sale had gone through earlier that evening. The revelation was met by gasps of astonishment and shouted questions as to why the news hadn’t been made public at the beginning of the evening. The chairman agreed to extend the event for 15 minutes in order to allow additional discussion.The audience was then introduced to Damian Wood, development director of Frontier Estates. Damian Wood explained to the audience and panel that he hadn’t wanted the news to dominate the discussion and that it was important for him to hear the views expressed at the event. He was unable to offer any details of the purchase, which he stated was covered by a confidentially agreement, or Frontier Estates’ plans for the site. He was, however, keen to assure the audience that there would be extensive consultation.The response, amongst some of the audience, to the announcement and the lack of detail on offer, was loud and persistent. Others in the audience called for quiet. At this point James Godman, the event organiser, stepped in to tell the audience that Damian Wood had travelled a great distance to be there and should be heard. In an increasingly fevered atmosphere, James Godman went on to tell one of the members of the panel who had interrupted him that “there’s more than your voice in Frome.” Earlier, the evening had started with an introduction to the then-current state of planning proposals for the site. An extremely detailed insight into the bureaucratic nuances of the planning process was provided by town and district councillor, Damon Hooton.The panel consisted of Nick White, Frome’s Mayor and Frome for All member; John Harris, freelance journalist and Keep Frome Local founder; Peter Grayson, owner of Frome-based Travel Angels; Michael Rhodes, town centre campaigner and founder of Frome for All; and Graham Burgess, town councillor and architectural consultant.Questions were provided by members of the audience. Topics covered included the existing planning brief, the cost of parking in the town centre, the need to create jobs, the possibility of community-led development and the need for effective consultation. There was a lot of agreement among the panel members. The planning brief was seen as a positive document that should be used to inform any development; all the panel wanted to see more people attracted into the town centre and they all wanted to avoid the ‘cherry-picking’ of areas for the most lucrative development which would damage the opportunity for development on the rest of the site. Serious differences of opinion only emerged when the subject of a large-scale supermarket development was discussed. Michael Rhodes wanted to attract shoppers back into the town centre from out-of-town stores. John Harris warned that a town centre supermarket would take the business of the town’s independent traders. Peter Grayson suggested a big retail development would get more people to see Frome as a destination for a day out. Graham Burgess highlighted the example of Chepstow which has many empty shops around a new town centre supermarket development.It was a lively debate in which a vocal audience was as divided as the panel. However, it all felt less significant after the news of the sale of the land was announced.The evening ended with Graham Burgess calling for people to remain patient as the sale of the land, exciting though it was, was just the start of a long process. Nick White had the last word asking Frontier Estates to “…consult as much as they possibly can” and to present a range of proposals to the people of Frome in a referendum.The event was broadcast live on Frome FM and the programme is available now to listen again on their website. Frome.tv also recorded the Question Time and their highlights will be available soon. Additionally Frome.tv recorded an interview with Frontier Estates’ Damian Wood after the event which is available now on Frome.tv’s website.The next Frome Question Time will focus on the town’s need for education and training.

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