Newly-elected mayor of Shaftesbury, Councillor Piers Brown, saw his year get off to a lively start last night, Tuesday 1 May, as council colleagues attacked North Dorset District Council’s decision to sell Shaftesbury cattle market to a supermarket chain, writes Richard Thomas.
Councillor Brown – a member of NDDC’s cabinet who made the decision to sell the market site last week – saw the district council come under sustained attack from fellow town councillors despite the earlier attempt by outgoing mayor Councillor John Lewer to support the sale.
Leading the attack, Councillor Philip Proctor said: ‘To sell the cattle market site without any consultation with the people of Shaftesbury or this council is astounding. What the hell is going on here?’
He claimed NDDC had a legal duty to consult the local community before it considered any sale because the land had belonged to the town before the last reorganisation of local government in 1974, and he believed it should naturally revert back to the town when NDDC ceases to exist next March as has happened elsewhere in Dorset.
Calling for legal advice to be sought by the council, he alleged NDDC had not followed ‘due process’ in coming to its decision. He also suggested that Southern Counties Auctioneers, the market operators, had been guilty of a number of breaches of their lease.
Councillors then queued up to attack NDDC cabinet’s decision on 23 April to sell the market to a major supermarket – rumoured to be Lidl – without first consulting the community of Shaftesbury or the town council.
Councillor Lewer pointed out that NDDC’s cabinet had gone against the recommendation of its own scrutiny committee that had called for an internal investigation of the cattle market lease only days before NDDC’s cabinet made its sale decision.
Councillor Tim Cook, chairman of the council’s general management committee, said it was clear NDDC was only interested in selling the site to the highest bidder as quickly as possible to make as much money for itself regardless of what local people wanted or the town needed.
‘NDDC is only looking at the value of the site to itself rather than Shaftesbury. They are seeing pounds signs in front of their eyes.’
Councillors Jeanne Loader and Lauren Todd both also pleaded for more public consultation before the sale went ahead.
Mrs Loader said a new supermarket next to Tesco was the last thing that the town wanted when the ex-Budgens store in the town centre remained empty.
‘If we need a new supermarket anywhere we need it in Bell Street,’ she said.
Councillor Brown’s attempt from the chair to defend the sale citing reasons given by NDDC’s cabinet – that the sale meant jobs for local people and competition for Tesco – drew an angry response from former town mayor Lester Dibben in the audience who called out ‘disgraceful’ to him.
The council finally resolved to start their own consultation to see what people want on the site with a day-long drop-in event at Shaftesbury football club in Coppice Street on Wednesday 16 May, with Shaftesbury’s four district councillors and relevant senior NDDC officers being ‘required’ to attend.
This is to be followed by a public debate in the evening at which the public will be asked if they would like a formal parish poll on the fate of the site. The council also agreed to spend up to £10,000 getting legal advice in the meantime.
Town clerk Claire Commons told councillors that any action could delay the sale but may not stop it.