There are several aspects of the controversial campaign to build a Sainsbury’s store in Bishop’s Waltham that set alarm bells ringing. Why, for example, do the company’s plans include relocation of the town’s doctors’ surgery?
We think it’s dangerous when provision of such vital services becomes intertwined with commercial planning applications. If a doctors’ surgery is needed, then it should not be dependent on a plan being approved. It should be provided independently of any decision on whether or not to have a Sainsbury’s.
Then there’s the issue of the company funding an organisation campaigning for it to be allowed to build a store in the town.
Of course it is entirely within its rights to do so. But although ‘Say Yes’ signs produced by supporters of Bishop’s Waltham Another View (BWAV) are in the orange colour associated with Sainsbury’s, there is no mention on them that they have been paid for by the company.
We believe there has to be transparency and that Sainsbury’s should be open about its involvement as BWAV seeks to gain the upper hand over the Bishop’s Waltham Action Group (BWAG), which is vehemently opposed to a supermarket at the town’s old Abbey Mill site and has put up its own estate agent-style ‘Say No’ signs in front gardens.
Whatever your view on the plan at the heart of this dispute, it is not a level playing field if one group of campaigners have the backing of a retail giant and the other has to go it alone.
Finally, why should BWAV’s 5,000 letters in support of the plan be accepted by the council, as the group wasn’t even formed until after the official consultation period ended?
This may be a direct response to BWAG members handing in a 4,500-signature petition to the council last summer, but it’s too late. Winchester councillors should think long and hard before accepting the letters when they decide this application in April.
Because if they do it will show that you can fail to adhere to the planning process and yet still be heard.