Village torn in two by superstore plan
By Western Daily Press | Monday, January 14, 2013, 09:00
Lesley Miller, left, the founder of Keep Cheddar Special, at the entrance to Steart Farm with Anne Fontaine. Mrs Fontaine's house would be on a roundabout if Steart Farm is developed into a Sainsbury's supermarket Picture: Steve Roberts
It is famous for its dramatic limestone Gorge, but it is a huge rift over supermarket plans that is dividing villagers in Cheddar.
The little community is being wooed by both Sainsbury and Tesco, but the Keep Cheddar Special group will not be beguiled by either. When Sedgemoor District Council Development Committee meets tomorrow to consider the Sainsbury plan it will be told that 520 letters of objection and one petition have been filed. Sixty two letters of support have been received.
The committee is being recommended to approve the Sainsbury scheme on the edge of the village, on condition that the supermarket giant helps village shops with shopfront improvement grants, advice from a retail expert, improved information boards, maps and guides for the tourist town.
But Keep Cheddar Special and the parish council say that is no recompense for the problems the store will bring. A cottage will have to be knocked down and a new roundabout built and other road improvements made if the superstore is to rise at Steart Farm on the southern edge of the town. The action group and the parish council say the traffic problems will be immense, with one listed bridge with no pavement barely wide enough to take traffic. Keep Cheddar Special says the village's charm lies in its independent shops, including two butchers, a fishmonger, a wine supplier, delicatessen and corner shop. It argues that the village's Budgen chain foodshop is adequate for local needs.
Tony Watts, chairman of the South West Forum on Ageing, and Cheddar resident says many older villagers have no car to reach Sainsbury's and would be marooned if the supermarket forces independent shops out of business.
He said: "Cheddar has a very high percentage of people – 23.6 per cent – of retirement age. Over the next 20 years, this will grow to almost 30 per cent. Moreover, we have four times the national average living in sheltered housing – indicating that we have a very high percentage of elderly and less mobile."
But Sainsbury says many people leave the village do their big food shops in Wells and even Weston-super-Mare, and planning officer Colin Arnold agrees that the superstore would actually help to keep spending power in the village.
In his report he says: "Ultimately, it is considered that the proposed development will result in a change to the retail offer in Cheddar to retain more trade than is currently the case and therefore preserve the role of the village against competition from larger towns such as Weston or Wells."
Carol Wilkie of Keep Cheddar Special said: "We don't want to hold Cheddar back, but we do want to see it develop in a controlled way for the benefit of the whole community, without destroying its rural nature. The traffic problems it will bring, the effect on traders and the aesthetics of the area are tremendous."