Anger as plan to demolish old Morrisons put forward 'with no discussion'

Shropshire Council has come under fire for preparing to demolish a former supermarket before deciding what to do with the site.

The Oswestry Masterplan will put forward plans to regenerate the site as part of the 'eastern gateway' to the town.
The Oswestry Masterplan will put forward plans to regenerate the site as part of the 'eastern gateway' to the town.

The authority was criticised by Oswestry Town Council at a meeting on Monday evening, when members voted to object to a demolition application for the old Morrisons in Oswald Road.

Councillors said the building should be left alone – or an alternative use found for it – until final plans for the site had been agreed as part of the emerging Oswestry Masterplan.

Green councillor Duncan Kerr, who sits on the Future Oswestry Group (FOG) which is developing the Masterplan, said the group had not been consulted on the plans or given advance notice that the demolition application was being lodged earlier this month.

He said: “There’s been no report from Shropshire Council, ever, on what is going to happen to this site. Indeed in November the officer from Shropshire Council said, ‘we need a new business case, we purchased it under one business case and we now need a new one’.

“So it was a bit of a surprise when the actual application came in.

“The FOG hasn’t considered it. It might have been in favour of it, I have no idea. But it didn’t get a chance to consider it.”

The application lodged with the council’s planning department says work is expected to start on site at the beginning of February and will be completed in early April.

The former Morrisons supermarket in Oswald Road. Pic: Google.

Councillor Kerr said: “I’m going to move we object to this for three reasons. Firstly, it hasn’t been discussed at all by the FOG where we hope all significant actions by the town council or Shropshire Council would be discussed.

“Secondly, we are mid-way through preparing an Oswestry Masterplan, and that won’t be finalised until the summer. I think this is premature until the Oswestry Masterplan is published.

“Thirdly, if you demolish a building without any replacement on-site you get no opportunity to recycle materials, so everything has to be cast off-site and dumped.

“That’s environmentally quite damaging but it’s very expensive as well.

“There are no plans for what’s going to go there, so there’s a danger this will sit as an empty site welcoming you to Oswestry as you come in from the Gobowen Road – the last thing we want people to see.

“And I don’t think we’ve had any opportunity to explore whether there is a temporary use.

“For all those reasons I think we should object. In terms of planning process, I don’t think we should allow a building to be demolished until we know what is going to replace it.”

The land is earmarked for redevelopment as part of the ‘Cambrian Gateway’ element of the Masterplan, but no firm plans have yet been decided as to what this might look like.

According to the latest draft of the masterplan, which will go before Shropshire Council’s cabinet on Wednesday to be signed off for public consultation, it is likely to include housing with an element of leisure, commercial and/or community use.

Proposals for the area will also encompass the town bus station, which is expected to be scrapped in favour of a ‘transport hub’ outside the railway station, which will be refurbished.

Councillor Jonathan Upton said: “What concerns me and I think what concerns a lot of people I’ve spoken to, is the lack of transparency on (Shropshire Council’s) part as to whether there will be anything going there afterwards or whether there won’t be.

“If there isn’t anything in the pipeline they should have been honest and said so, they should have made their information more clear. The way it’s been handled is just not acceptable.”

The supermarket was constructed in 1985 and the demolition application, lodged by consultancy firm Tetra Tech on behalf of the council, says the building “has come to the end of its useful economic life”.

It was vacated when Morrisons relocated to its new store on the former Smithfield livestock market site in October 2019, and was later bought by Shropshire Council.

Councillor Kerr said: “I don’t even know why they purchased it to be perfectly honest. I’m sure they didn’t purchase it in order to run a supermarket or have somebody else move in.

“I’m sure most people would think they purchased it with a view do doing something, but they’re not telling us or anybody else what that something is.

“To be fair I don’t think the members of Shropshire Council – and there are members of the controlling group of Shropshire Council on the FOG – know themselves.

“Either they do know themselves and they’re saying they don’t, but I don’t actually think they do know.”

Councillor Olly Rose added: “It is relatively unusual in planning applications to not be given an idea of what the purpose is. If they are knocking it down they obviously have a reason, and that should really be mentioned.”

Councillors voted in favour of objecting to the demolition, and said they would like to invite Shropshire Council’s cabinet member for physical infrastructure, Councillor Dean Carroll, to a future meeting to discuss the plans for the site.

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