It was very disappointing that on Tuesday (17 January) the Western Area Planning Sub-committee of East Riding of Yorkshire Council decided to effectively approve the replacement of the large area of retail floor space at the George Street Co-op with a residential development of 34 apartments by McCarthy and Stone.
This was in the face of clear opposition from the local community, in which the equivalent of one in four of all the households in Pocklington had signed a petition objecting and the Town Council had objected.
It is revealing, perhaps, that none of the Sub-Committee members represent Pocklington, but represent areas as far afield as Goole and Cottingham.
The Sub-Committee had a recommendation from council officers for approval, which was based on the conclusions that: “the loss of the Cooperative food store will not harm the viability and vitality of the town centre of Pocklington” and “there is deemed to be a shortage of suitable accommodation”.
These conclusions appear to be based on reports submitted by McCarthy and Stone’s agents covering a Retail Assessment, which had been checked by another consultant appointed by the Council, and on Housing and Care Needs.
The retail assessments recognise that there is capacity for growth in “comparison shopping”. This additional capacity will clearly be required to service the expanding residential developments of the town, but the Council is satisfied that there will be space available on the bus garage site that is currently in commercial use and may never become available for redevelopment as shops.
There is no consideration as to whether keeping retail uses within the primary shopping area might be more important to a town which is expanding and needs a wider variety of “comparison” shops. There is also no consideration given to the balance between independent traders and large company shops in the town.
The Housing and Care Needs report is largely generic in nature and looks at needs in the East Riding Council area as a whole.
The report does not contain a single assessment of the needs in Pocklington itself and no consideration whatsoever seems to have been given to the specific situation in our local area.
There are, in fact, already more than 130 retirement or sheltered housing units within 0.5km of the site. There are also hundreds of other properties suitable for retired people in the area, with several on the market at any one time.
The recommendation reached by council’s officers rests on the conclusion that the need for apartments within the main shopping area is more important than any damage that the loss of retail within the centre will have on its vitality.
The most worrying aspect of this decision is that both officers and members are only considering the East Riding area as a whole in deciding policy. This “one size fits all” approach cannot be appropriate or fair, especially when those making decisions do not represent the area and may not know it adequately.
This attitude was illustrated by the outrageous remark made by Councillor Rudd before the vote at the meeting that, if they want another supermarket I am sure it will be built somewhere.
Whether we like it or not the decision has been made and we will have to live with it.
Nevertheless, I hope that we can find a way for the local area’s circumstances and needs to have more influence in future decision making and that our elected representatives work towards that end.
It will be interesting to see whether the much reduced contributions towards affordable housing and open space, that are yet to be finalised, will be spent in our area or used elsewhere in the wider East Riding.