A new supermarket earmarked for Gibbet Marsh in the Rye Neighbourhood Plan proved such a contentious idea before the start of the annual Town Meeting (when Rye Town Council reports back on its activities) that an audience of about 60 people was ushered into a side room to talk in more detail about the proposal before the main event.
Most of the people attending the session at Tilling Green Community Centre on Wednesday April 4, had apparently not looked at the Neighbourhood Plan beforehand or attended any of the open meetings that had been held over the past years.
The houses around Gibbet Marsh had been leafleted last week about the proposal (apparently by a local resident) and it was because of this information that they were there and they were, almost without exception, extremely angry about it.
Facing them was Dr Anthony Kimber, vice chairman of the Plan’s Steering Group and the driving force behind the development of this comprehensive and detailed piece of work on behalf of the Town Council, which has been developed so that Rye residents have a statutory planning document to which they have contributed, and on which they will finally vote, in a referendum.
It emerged from the questions and general discussion that many residents in the room did not know of the Plan, or know that it had any value in the wider sense, which it does, and felt strongly that there had been no communication or information. When they questioned the need for another local supermarket in any form, Dr Kimber had the unenviable task of informing them that Rother District Council (RDC), the local planning authority, had laid a statutory requirement in their district plan on the development of retail space, some of which will be accommodated in small pockets of development, but this will still require a further larger site for a foodstore. If this requirement of the Plan is to be altered, this has to be done by RDC itself.
Finding this hard to believe, some individuals expressed their views in very forthright terms. The main arguments against the proposal related to the actual need for more supermarket space, in view of the enlarged Jempsons store and the increase in online shopping ; the loss of green space, and that a new foodstore would further decimate the High Street. The proposal could also result in local planning blight for the houses close to the marsh. It was pointed out that there was likely to be disturbance at night and increased traffic flow during the day, exacerbated by the railway crossing’s proximity. Movements of heavy goods vehicles would need a wider entrance and would impact on the structure of the adjacent houses.
It would also mean a loss of parking spaces for the town and cut across cycle pathways and other recreational activities.
Additionally, members of the audience were unhappy with the Neighbourhood Plan website which they felt was not fit for purpose. Some others, more used to the website design, had found it a useful tool.
Dr Kimber explained why this site had been chosen, following the withdrawal of the Tesco and Sainsbury’s supermarkets from the land they had bought in Ferry Road, which had freed up the vacant Lower School site by the Queen Adelaide and the railway crossing on Ferry Road, for housing or other development.
The precise proposal for a supermarket foodstore on Gibbet Marsh would mean that 50% of the space, from the sewerage works to the railway line and encompassing the tarmac area, would be the area under development. The other 50% of overflow parking green space would not be affected. This was greeted with undisguised disbelief, and the point was strongly made that this was impossible to confine any such building and associated works and parking only on this particular part of the site.
Dr Kimber informed the gathering that he would bring up all these points at a meeting he will have with RDC about the Plan in a fortnight’s time. He also agreed to a special meeting organised by the Town Council to be set up to enable further discussion.The Deputy Mayor, Councillor Michael Boyd, then drew the side meeting’s proceedings to a close as it was time to open the Town Meeting.
However, the debate spilled over into this forum, and on representation from a questioner, Mr Richard Fairhall, the Town Clerk, minuted the deep concern felt about this proposal, and that a large number of people present objected to it. It was unfortunate that local RDC Councillor Lord Ampthill, on being asked to respond, was unaware of this proposal, but was able to say that no specific plans of any kind were tabled at RDC at this juncture. It was further minuted that the deputy Mayor, Councillor Michael Boyd, would chair the follow-up meeting.
It was pointed out that every two weeks a planning meeting is held which is open to the public, who can ask questions, and that Dr Kimber is present to keep the planning committee updated. It was clear that not everyone in the audience knew about this.
Finally, following another speaker who explained the need for a better supermarket with a more reasonable price range, a straw poll was held on whether there was the need for a new supermarket food store in Rye, comments about the price and standard of the produce in Jempsons Local in the town centre having been made during the question-and-answer session. Interestingly, on a show of hands, the outcome was 50/50. A straw poll in the earlier pre-meeting (mainly of nearby residents to Gibbet Marsh) was overwhelmingly against the development of any new supermarket.
Those wishing to be informed about the next meeting are asked to submit their email addresses, either on the Plan website or by email to the Town Clerk at email@example.com. Rye News will ensure that the date and time of the meeting are published.
Photo: Gillian Roder and Rye News Library