A Statement from Keep Westbridge Park Green (KWPG).
14th June 2013
The Future of Westbridge Park
KWPG has studied the latest proposals from Stafford Borough Council (SBC) and notes that the Council continues to ignore the wishes of Stone residents.
Some Councillors and Officers seem determined to push ahead with their plans for the sale of land to facilitate the building of a food-store on the Park. They continue assuming that they will eventually achieve the result they so obviously wish to see and regardless of the damage that this will cause to relationships with the residents of Stone.
KWPG remains determined to fight against the building of a food-store on the Park. This stance is a reflection of local opinion that has been demonstrated strongly via a petition, at an open meeting and during the latest SBC consultation.
KWPG believes the retention of the Park as a centre for recreation and leisure activities to be key to the future of a Stone whose prosperity will derive from its markets, festivals, high street, canal, river and Park. Indeed, we wish to see the Park enhanced and its position protected as part of a green corridor running the length of the Trent Valley and as a natural division between the communities of Stone Town and Walton.
We believe that the SBC proposal to designate the entire Park as ‘mixed use’ will inevitably lead to demands for even more development and that such demands will be extremely difficult to resist. The suggestion of passing ownership of part of the Park to Stone Town Council provides no comfort given that the Town Council continue voting along SBC party lines; have yet to resist a super market development on the Park and all done in the face of strong local opposition.
We also note that SBC as owner of the land has every right to retain ‘protected open space’ status on the Park but chooses not to do so. Parts of the Park can only be sold if the owner agrees to sell. This is the issue: Stafford Borough Council is prepared to sell off an important part of Stone’s heritage.
For sake of clarity, KWPG supports the upgrading of leisure facilities in Stone but is not prepared to sacrifice the Park to achieve this end. We call on SBC to plan for such an upgrading without sale of land in the Park to a food operator – even if this implies a delay in implementation.
We would like to take this opportunity to slay 2 myths.
The petition submitted by KWPG in November 2012 was reviewed and accepted by SBC legal officers as a valid document. It contained the details of 4,771 residents opposing development on the Park. This number represents close to half of the adult population of Stone and is a remarkable response via petition.
At the time of the petition, SBC’s precise plans for development on the Park were not known. Residents were therefore asked to oppose the development of ‘retail OR housing’ on the Park. At no point did KWPG claim that housing was definitely to be developed on the Park. This is the first myth quoted by SBC.
SBC also appears reluctant to accept that the votes submitted by KWPG on behalf of residents during the recent consultation are of equal value to those it collected itself. As a result SBC continually quotes a small majority in favour of development when in fact there was a substantial majority against.
Residents should be aware that the votes submitted by KWPG were submitted on the forms used by SBC itself and were therefore, in our opinion, every bit as valid as those of SBC.
We also note that SBC employees used its own leisure centre for promotion of the consultation and attended all consultations to actively promote its plans yet objected when KWPG adopted a similar approach to oppose the proposals.
It is remarkable in these circumstances that SBC should try to class votes submitted by KWPG on behalf of residents as somehow ‘second rate’. This is the second myth and we doubt SBC’s behaviour will please those residents whose opinions have effectively been discounted.
‘The Times’ of 13 June, contains the following quote from journalist Janice Turner under the heading ‘Park Life’: ‘Defending a public place where no one sells you stuff is a truly noble cause. With land resources stretched and privatisation rampant, how long before parks become questionable luxuries?’ Well, it seems that SBC is ahead of the game on this issue at least.