FURIOUS Stone residents heckled councillors during a heated meeting where they demanded answers on the future of Westbride Park.
More that 350 people packed into the main hall at Alleyne’s High School on Tuesday - the only meeting space in Stone large enough to accommodate the crowd - to hear Stafford Borough Council bosses explain the borough’s development plans for the town.
Even then many were unable to get into the crowded hall and had to listen to proceedings from the corridor outside.
The plan’s proposals for a “mixed use development” on Westbridge Park - described by supporters as the town’s “green lung”, have sparked fierce opposition from residents.
A petition containing more than 4,700 names was handed in to the borough council last week.
Councillor Jill Hood told Tuesday’s meeting that more people had signed the petition than had voted in Stone during the 2010 General Election.
And a poster created by local Scouts and Cubs, which said “Hands Off Westbridge - Our Park”, was unfurled at the meeting by Scout leader Chris Barlow to a round of applause.
Furious residents booed the borough council team. Councillor Mike Williamson’s comment that the borough council had promised a full public consultation before any decisions on Westbridge Park were made was dismissed with shouts of “rubbish”.
Councillor Williamson later faced orders to “sit down” by many residents after he urged them to think about the future need for a new leisure centre and warned that if residents were to fund a new facility themselves through council tax, “you are talking about a 40- year millstone”.
Gasps of horror followed an admission by Stafford Borough Council’s leader Mike Heenan that “we think the only way we can build a large enough leisure centre will be to go in with a food operator”.
The meeting was told that food retailers had expressed interest in moving into the town.
A report conducted by an independent organisation in 2009 had identified a shortage of food retail space in the town and highlighted Westbridge Park as a possible location for a new supermarket.
Ted Manders, the borough council’s head of planning and regeneration, said at Tuesday’s meeting: “It is not a question of people getting a supermarket in Stone, it is a question of what evidence base is there that supermarkets will use in support of their planning application.
“If we were to refuse an application without very good planning reasons the first thing the supermarket would do is to go to the Planning Inspectorate.
That would take it out of the hands of the town and borough councils and the people of Stone that is quite an important consideration.
“We are not saying Stone must have an extra supermarket, we are saying that if any supermarket does come forward I would want to ensure we get the best possible out of it for Stone.”
Residents demanded to know if green space would be needed for any future developments at Westbridge Park.
They were told by Councillor Heenan: “A large part of the green area would be retained, the majority would be retained. That is the reality.”
The council is considering a new leisure centre to replace the “obsolete” facilities currently at Westbridge Park and the pool at Alleyene’s Sports Centre, which is run by the nearby high school and has limited public opening times.
But town councillor Rob Kenney, who kick-started the Keep Westbridge Green petition, has said Stone Business Park would be a more suitable location for a new leisure centre than Westbridge Park.
What People Said
UK Youth Parliament candidate Jack Taylor said: "On behalf of so many children in Stone listen to us. We want Westbridge Park. We don’t want a supermarket in the future. We want our green space"
GRAHAM Maltby said: “The consultation so far has been shoddy at the very least - at the very worst it is deceitful.
TOWN councillor Mark Green said: “We have to listen to the people and I think the people of Stone ought to be heard in a full public inquiry.”
LIN Davies, a former town and borough councillor, said: “What is the county council going to do about the infrastructure in and around Stone if there are going to be plans?”
TOWN and borough councillor Joyce Farnham, said: “We have got to listen to what the borough council and officers have to tell us. Then we can all make our minds up.”
TOWN councillor Tom Jackson said: “I want to make my mind up but I can’t without knowing all the facts.”
AMANDA Sigley said: "What are the chances the council actually listens to the public people? The same public who voted for them!"
BOROUGH councillor Robert Stephens said: "Another planning and leisure own goal for the Council.
"There was an opportunity to engage positively with the public but leaks, heresay and rumours mean we start off on the back foot again. #
"On top of that we give £20,000 to consultants to tell us what the residents have so clearly communicated already. If people think their elected Councillors are in control of the authority, then this situation proves otherwise.
"The excellent elected representatives in Stone would not have let it come to this.