Wiltshire Publications

Issue 485 – Charity and traders wrangle over shop premises

THE former Madcap Music premises in the Market Place could soon become a drop-in centre for a local charity to offer help and advice.

But the plans have been met with opposition from some local traders, who want to see the town centre shop kept as a retail outlet.
The charity Crosspoint was set up last year, aiming to promote the wellbeing of local residents and to contribute to the relief of those in need. Crosspoint is planning to set up their “welcome centre” in the former Madcap Music premises, which has been vacant for several years.
The drop-in centre would provide a place for people in need to call in for help, advice, or simply to chat with a friendly face. If planning permission is granted, they hope to open their doors in May or June.
Rev Dai Davies, chair of Crosspoint said, “We did look at several properties in the area. For one it was available, and secondly our main thing was that it’s fairly central. It’s not just for those on the margins or struggling, it’s for lonely folk as well. They can pop in while they do their shopping.
“We’re needing to apply for a change of use and that’s going to go before the planning committee in Westbury on the 18th and then to Wiltshire Council and subject to that, we’re about ready to go! We’ve been doing our training and our hope is everything is lined up to start. They’ve been renovating inside and it actually looks fantastic.”
However, some local traders are objecting to taking a premises out of potential retail use. While they say they support the objectives and integrity of Crosspoint, they do not want to see the loss of a retail space in the town when the Development Plan Policy for Westbury and in particular the recently commissioned Vision for Westbury focuses on retaining and expanding the Market Place as a properous retail and commercial centre. A petition is in place with various retailers in the town.
Dai Davies responded, “Some people are concerned that we’re taking a shop out of the economic retail sector. Our answer to that is we have significant areas of deprivation in Westbury and hopefully if we can help people into work and back to work then we will be able to contribute to the economic wellbeing of the town. While we understand people’s concerns, we don’t believe they are necessarily justified.
“Some folk have also got the misapprehension that we are opening a drop-in centre for alcohol and drug users in Westbury, but this isn’t the case.”
However, in a statement, a group of Westbury traders have objected that the centre would not offer commercial benefit to the town. They say, “There are other suitable premises which could be occupied by Crosspoint, leaving the Market Square with potential to revive as a trading area.
“An alternative offer to occupy the building for its existing use has already been made. The building will not be left vacant if the planning application is rejected.
“Westbury Traders’ further objections relate to the statement in Crosspoint’s business/operating plan that the target users would benefit commercial traders and the town centre. If the proposed drop-in centre users are unable or unwilling to obtain advice and guidance through usual channels, e.g. Citizens Advice Bureau or the legal profession, the conclusion to be drawn is that, they are unlikely to bring revenue into the centre of the town. Crosspoint’s stated belief that there is “a fair chance users may spend money in the town “ and their contention that the drop- in centre would be a magnet attracting commercial trade is perceived by the traders as both naïve, misguided and incorrect.”
“The further fear expressed by traders and local residents alike is that the drop-in centre would result in increased levels of noise and disturbance. The Market Square already suffers from anti-social behaviour, with police presence required on a regular basis. It is widely believed that users of the drop-in centre would exacerbate this problem. Any statistical analysis of the target user group would find a correlation with identifiable problem segments of a community.
“All people who object to this proposal are asked to submit written objections to Wiltshire Council Planning Dept before the 21st April 2011 (the deadline 22nd April 2011 is a public holiday.)”
Crosspoint was founded by a group of people from different churches in the town, who identify problems with social isolation and deprivation in the area. The charity is built on Christian values, seeking to promote the wellbeing of local residents and contributing to the relief of those in need, irrespective of age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, race, or religion. Crosspoint has its own website, www.crosspoint-westbury.co.uk.
Wiltshire Council’s decision on the application for change of use of the Market Place premises is expected by the beginning of May.