We understand that discussion between Waitrose and council officers on what is called ‘mitigation’ - or planning gain – had not concluded by the time the report for the planing hearing on Tuesday 21st February had to be written.
This means that the figure on the table going in to the hearing is not £190k but £325k, with a contribution to the play park contribution sitting separate from the ‘planning gain’ mitigation package as it does not fulfill the planning gain criteria.
Paul Doherty, Director of Drum Development Company (Helensburgh) Ltd, co-applicant with Waitrose on the application and, as site owner, Waitrose’s prospective landlord, has told us that Waitrose is also to give £1,000 per month to local good causes.
We have asked Mr Doherty a series of direct questions and have engaged with him in frank exchanges of view on the impact of the presence of Waitrose in the out of town location at Colgrain on Cardross Road.
He has made the point that what is less well known is that competitors of Waitrose were also trying to position themselves in out of town locations.
The galling thing about this is that Waitrose and its competition have taken this line because of Helensburgh townsfolk’s long standing objection to retail development on the pier head. They have all felt that attempting to locate there would not be worth the pain of the public opposition they feared would result from such an application. While this may have been an historical stance in the town, we do not accept that it is how townsfolk feel today.
We do accept, though, that this is an accurate account of what has been a factor in the decisions taken.
The lesson to learn for town residents is that the axis of regeneration is the compromise to be wrought between convenience for residents – as a town must be a positive place to live in – and what it has to offer to visitors in numbers to crank up its local economy.
The pier head site was the bargaining chip and it has not been well played by anyone concerned.
We do not accept that a leisure centre has to be in a town centre location – any more than we accept that any retail outlet other than Waitrose could have galvanised the town centre by its presence on the pier head site.
Waitrose has rarity, cachet, quality and, perhaps unrecognised, affordability. It will pull – and continue to pull, a substantial market to its doors, wherever it is.
If the choice were to be between Waitrose at Colgrain or another more familiar quality supermarket on the pierhead – then, for the regeneration of Helensburgh town cantre, we do not doubt that the latter would be the best option.
Jackie Baillie, the MSP for the area, has today written to council CEO, copied to each councillor, asking that the hearing on Tuesday 21st February be postponed: Jackie Baillie MSP Waitrose Letter to Council CEO.
The retailer, Sainsbury’s has also opened up about its own position, its interest in locating a new store on the pierhead site. It has written a letter circulated to all councijllors and to local media, asking for the rejection of the Waitrose application: Sainsbury’s – The Case for Helensburgh Town Centre (20.02.12).
If the planning hearing tomorrow goes ahead (which it will) and continues to defy the wisdom of the planners, the Waitrose store will prosper – as it would wherever it had located – but the town centre will continue on its grisly slide.
In the end you don’t get what you’ve not fought for hard enough and in the end Helensburgh residents may well be happy to drive quickly through the sad town centre out to Waitrose and return home quickly with the fruits of their hunting trip, close the door and live an enclosed life.
Things could still be different but the odds are against it.
As soon as the council conveniently cleared the deck for the Waitrose application at Colgrain by putting a proscription (and why exactly?) on any major retail development on the pierhead, the local authority position was clear.
In the end, the council administration – and not its planning department – are responsible for what it has decided to enable – Waitrose at Colgrain. If they push this through regardless of professional advice, Helensburgh as a whole will pay for it.
In waiting, like everyone else, to see what happens tomorrow, we would wish to pay tribute to Paul Doherty of Drum who engaged in a tough set of exchanges and behaved with considerable grace under sustained pressure.