The sale of land at Canal Park in Banff to allow for a potential supermarket development has been supported by councillors following a vote, along with an agreement to consult with the sports groups that will be affected.
Following a detailed discussion by the Banff & Buchan Area Committee yesterday (Tue, Aug 17), a call for the project to be deferred to allow an economic retail impact assessment to be conducted and to gather further information was defeated by seven votes to three.
The decision means that court approval will now be sought for the sale of the land. The court will evaluate all evidence presented to it, including consultation submissions, in considering whether to grant a common good order to enable the sale to go ahead. If successful, a planning application would also have to be lodged and separately decided for the development of the facilities.
Supermarket firm Morrisons is the preferred bidder for the project, which would involve the creation of a supermarket, café, filling station, car wash, and parking on land at Canal Park/Old Market Place.
The area of ground and buildings proposed for the project lies to the west of the Deveron Bridge and currently features a grass football pitch (Canal Park), pavilion, and the former Bridge Street Community Centre.
The land also includes three redundant tennis courts and a basketball court. The adjacent Princess Royal Park does not form part of the project.
As part of the committee discussion, a report before councillors highlighted that there were 336 formal responses to a consultation about the project from members of the public and local groups over 10 weeks from April to June this year, representing a response rate of 1%.
Reference was also made to a 754-signature petition in objection to the proposal, although this could not be considered as a formal response to the consultation.
Before making their decision, the committee heard from three members of the public who had asked to speak about the proposals.
Rachel Kennedy, representing the ‘Save Our Canal Park’ group and the Friends of Duff House, urged the committee to take heed of concerns raised in the public consultation and refuse to sell the land.
She highlighted concerns about the loss of green space and common good land, the potential impact on other businesses, potential flooding issues, and the possibility of another supermarket being built in the area.
Mhairi McKean, secretary of the Banff Preservation and Heritage Society, raised similar issues, suggesting the proposals would contradict guidance on the use of open spaces and the council’s strategic development plan.
Scott Birnie called for support for the project, saying the funds generated from the project could help revitalise the area and suggesting that the development would encourage people to shop in the town centre.
Following a detailed exploration of the arguments for and against the proposals, a consensus could not be reached on the recommendations.
Cllr Glen Reynolds felt that it would be ‘premature’ to make a decision without further information and called for deferral of a decision, pending the completion of assessments of the potential impacts of the development, including information on mitigation measures.
He said: “I do not feel that in light of what I have before me today and in light of the consultation that we are remotely close to agreeing the recommendations that are before us.”
The motion was supported by Cllr Brian Topping, who felt more emphasis should be placed on the consultation feedback and agreed more information was required.
Cllr John Cox felt that although the ‘tangible benefits’ of the development hadn’t been fully explained it was important to avoid any delay to potential investment in the area.
He said: “It is about building capacity and growing capacity, and seeing where that money’s going to go to fulfil our obligations to the community, which is the regeneration (and) which includes other aspects of the town.”
Moving an amendment, he called for support of the recommendations in the report with an additional request that a non-statutory consultation take place with local sports groups to identify opportunities for future investment and to maximise the benefits for the communities. The amendment was seconded by Cllr Michael Roy.
Following the vote, the motion was defeated by the amendment by seven votes to three. Cllr Topping asked that his dissent be recorded.
Aberdeenshire Council’s Head of Legal and People will now be asked to conclude missives for the sale of the land, and to seek approval from the Court of Session for the sale itself.
An economic retail impact assessment will be conducted, and a non-statutory consultation will take place with local sports groups. Any sale would also be dependent upon Morrisons obtaining planning consent.
Proceeds from any sale of the land would be passed to the council’s Common Good Fund, with the money reserved for the benefit of the Banff and Macduff communities under the council’s Common Good Fund.
Speaking after the meeting, Banff and Buchan Area Committee chair Cllr Doreen Mair said: “We had a very comprehensive debate about what could be a significant project for the Banff and Macduff communities, and part of the discussion was about ensuring we have as much information as possible about the benefits it could generate.
“There are, of course, further steps to be taken before a sale can be finalised but for the meantime I welcome the decision to work with local sports groups to see how we can realise the maximum benefit from the development and use the proceeds to invest directly in our communities.”
Committee vice-chair Cllr Michael Roy added: “We appreciate the strength of feeling these proposals have drawn and the decision was very much about getting the balance right.
“What we must focus on now are the benefits it could bring to our communities and the consultation with sports groups to identify potential opportunities will be part of that effort."
The full report that was considered by councillors can be found on the Aberdeenshire Council website.