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Large turnout for Saxonvale meeting

TOWN centre campaign group Keep Frome Local (KFL) hosted a packed and enthusiastic public meeting last week, opposing the proposals for the Saxonvale site.

The event was aimed at focusing opposition to the Milton Keynes-based developer Frontier Estates’ plans to build a retail park on the Saxonvale site centred around a 52,00 square feet supermarket. The meeting, which was held at the town’s Cheese and Grain venue on Tuesday 21st January, also provided a last-minute opportunity for Frome residents to get letters of objection to Mendip District Council.

Around 250 people participated and extra seating had to be provided. The first segment of the meeting was given over to a presentation by KFL volunteer, John Harris, about the context for the Frontier plan and he described the uncertain future faced by the big supermarket operators and High Street chains that Frontier wants to dominate the new development.

There was a danger, he said, that in the short term, a new development so dominated by retail would have the kind of damaging effect on the existing town centre recently seen in Shepton Mallet. But looking slightly further ahead, he said that if the new retail park itself hit difficulties – which the rise of online shopping, and the unprecedented difficulties being suffered by supermarkets and big national chains would make a likely possibility – the town would be hit twice over.

The meeting then heard from KFL members about the specific local problems the Frontier plan would cause, from traffic congestion to dangers to pedestrians trying to reach a new retail park from the town centre. After that, members of the audience who had not so far put in submissions via the planning process, wrote 107 letters of objection, which were hand-delivered to Mendip District Council’s Shepton Mallet offices last Thursday by KFL volunteers Duncan Skene and Dodie Stephens.

Two days after the meeting, Frome Town Council held an extraordinary meeting, at which members of the public discussed the Frontier proposals in working groups, before town councillors voted on whether to recommend acceptance or rejection of the retail park plan. Nine councillors voted for refusal, with only one against.

KFL communications organiser Janet Weeks said, “This week has proved that Frome has a strong sense of the damage and disruption that would be caused by the Frontier plans, and what the town could lose.

“We support the town council’s decision, and are thankful that councillors and officers took such an in-depth review of Frontier’s plan before coming to a decision.

“The Frontier plan is ill-thought-out; there’s a case for more shops in Frome, but the plan for little more than an old-fashioned retail park does our town a disservice.

“The next steps are to make sure that Mendip District Council hear people’s huge worries and concerns loud and clear, and that the community of Frome can work together on a better plan for Saxonvale.

“In the meantime, we will be campaigning with the slogan ‘Frome deserves better’ and supporting independent town-centre businesses with a renewed ‘Shop Local’ campaign, which can be clearly seen around the middle of Frome. ”