On Saturday last I joined the group Marple in Action in a visit to a consultation exercise at the local college organised by Asda and the college in advance of a planning application.
Asda is working with the sixth form college on a joint planning application for half the existing site, with the rationale that this will fund development at the rest. There has been no consultation to date with the community, or disclosure of how the governors have got to the situation of being unable to properly plan for and fund development at the college. As soon as the proposal for a retail development at the site, rumoured for years, was admitted by the governors, interested parties called a public meeting.
It rapidly became clear that the college was unprepared to indulge in any communication or consultation in any meaningful way, and that the site was deemed unsuitable for such a retail use by a large proportion of the public, but also that it was totally outside any planning guidelines for the area.
“I am amazed that large retailers have such contempt for their customers”
The site is outside the area zoned for retail development for Marple (a suburb of Stockport), and is on a road already unable to cope with existing traffic movements. The three local councillors and the MP for Marple, Andrew Stunnell, have all declared their opposition.
The phoney war has now commenced. Friday and Saturday were designated a public exhibition and consultation for the scheme, described as a neighbourhood store despite being at least 25,000 sq ft. A peaceful group of around 200 strolled from Marple centre to the college to take part in the process. Security appeared to envisage something on the scale of a riot - professional security guards were blocking the entrance and there was with a prolonged registration and crowd control procedure.
The so-called consultation consisted of six questions of the ‘have you stopped beating your wife?’ variety. Anderson Communications had devised a document that gave no option for any form of objection to the proposal. Any questions on key matters supposedly the subject of the exhibition such as traffic management were deemed to be unanswerable “at this stage”.
I remain amazed that large businesses in multiple retail have such contempt for their customers and potential customers. Fortunately, diligent lobbying by Marple In Action has gained the support of local and national politicians, most recently from Lady Margaret Hodge, who has said that she shares Marple in Action’s concern over the issue of accountability in the way colleges/academies are allowed to handle public assets.