Update provided by Kevin Durkan
Leader of Parish Council Subgroup (Subco)- Shop
To Ian Hindler- Chair of Sherington Parish Council (SPC)
The purpose of this note is to update you in respect of the following;
- Your verbal request to me regarding oversight of SPC direction as to the shop project.
You expressed a desire that I review the steps taken to date by SPC, as regards the Shop and in particular you asked that I rigorously tested the basis that the current direction of looking to develop the White Hart Barn was grounded on sound principles and was within the scope of SPC. You asked that I pay particular attention to the Sherington Neighbourhood Plan (SNP)
I understand your need to ensure that resources, both financially and in terms of man hours, are helping the SPC to deliver both strategic vision and value to the Village and its inhabitants. I believe that the most relevant document is the SNP as it has the triple stamp of approval from, the village residents, the SPC and Milton Keynes Council. My contention is that if the current plans either meet or enhance the goals set out in the SNP, then the SPC is acting in accordance with the three groups of interested parties. (Residents, SPC and MKC).
I carried out a detailed review of the SNP and some of the findings emphasise why any opportunity which arises to support the White Hart and a shop is absolutely in line with the SNP. I put the 2 (White Hart and a shop) in that order because that is exactly how the SNP regards them from a village perspective.
The relevant sections in the SNP are;
- Page 8. Sherington has been designated by MKC as an “Area of Attractive Landscape” (AAL) and the need is to “conserve the special character and appearance of the area”.
The White Hart is a listed building and thus contributes to the special character. The temporary village store clearly adds nothing on that score.
- Page 11. “Key features which residents would like to protect…. “The White Hart” (The shop is not mentioned). The White Hart is the only retail business specifically mentioned in the SNP.
- Page 16. The section refers to supporting local businesses and to positively encourage employment opportunities. It further states “…supporting the development of new premises and infrastructures that enables existing and new businesses to thrive”. The White Hart currently employs several villagers and the opening of a shop in the overall premises would add to that number. The White Hart also uses mostly local workman for its maintenance work and thus contributes to the local economy.
- Page 27. 8.2 …… “Community facilities, both in private and public ownership, are very important to village life, fostering a sense of place, meeting local needs for education, shopping, socialising and worship. These facilities all contribute to the day-to-day activity within the village. The Parish Council will support existing facilities and encourage appropriate improvements that benefit of all users and residents of the parish”.
- Page 28 4 “St Laud’s Church, the school, village hall, pavilion and White Hart public house all play a vital role in underpinning the vibrant community of the village.” Interestingly no mention of the village shop. (It is clear from reading the various sections relating to village facilities which are valued by the community that the White Hart is an oft cited “treasure” whilst the “village shop” is a requirement rather than pertaining to any specific building.
- Page 28 6 “The village stores have been reopened and are presently housed within a temporary facility adjacent to the village hall. A unilateral undertaking has been given by the landowner of High Street housing site, covered by Policy NP7, to provide funding towards a new shop to serve the village on a permanent basis within the community hub”. My research into this clause has highlighted 2 main facts. Firstly, that the existing structure was always meant to be of a temporary nature and the current site was not the first choice for the site but was chosen for expeditious reasons (Source is the Chair of the SPC at the time the shop was opened). Secondly and perhaps of more importance is that the “unilateral undertaking” was not realised. The main reason for this, as raised by a family source, was that the building proposed by Shopco did not meet the criteria of a permanent structure (substantial brick build) and was not what either the original SPC or the potential benefactor had in mind.
- Page 45. Policy NP9: Local Economy and Employment This section includes the following, “ In particular, the Neighbourhood Plan will support: • applications to change land use or use of buildings to accommodate existing businesses experiencing growth or displaced by development elsewhere in the parish; • proposals for developing new businesses or expanding existing businesses provided they are appropriate to their rural setting, reflect as appropriate the character of the village, and/or the countryside within the parish;” The White Hart clearly meets the criteria whilst the existing village stores does not.
I commenced this review with a mindset to thoroughly test the basis of the SPC support for the development of the barn at the White Hart in order to develop a village shop within the structure. My conclusions, based upon scrutiny of the SNP, talking to previous SPC members, reviewing the Shopco findings and talking to some of my fellow villagers are;
- The SPC are acting totally in concert with many of the points raised in the SNP. The proposal for a conversion of the barn at the White Hart should be thoroughly supported by the SPC (but see my later point about transparency).
- My fellow subco member, Alistair Meldrum , is focusing upon the requirements and restrictions relating to the general governance of the SPC and in particular with the relevance of Section 137 BUT I find that the SPC should look to utilise all legitimate means to use existing non-precept funds and any other potential sources such as S106 monies or Inward Investment funds to deliver on several of the SNP goals. I consider this proposal to be worthy of investment from the SPC without compunction.
- The landowner who had offered a contribution is still willing to contribute, subject to the plan including a permanent (brick build) structure.
- The plans involving the current shop in terms of further SPC commitment would still not deal with the dual issues of “Temporary” structure and would still involve the SPC in terms of management.
- There is a “unique” opportunity to enhance both the White Hart and a shop within the village in one single course of action. My “proposal” for your consideration is that the SPC considers a variation of a well-favoured Government approach, namely a PFI (Private Finance Initiative). In this case the SPC can facilitate the use of funds to assist in the cost of converting a property (A listed building which would also be then preserved) for the purpose of delivering a purpose-built viable village shop whilst the Private contribution would be for the owner of the White Hart to agree a 3- or 5-year agreement whereby they would provide a fully managed shop with all the costs being borne by the owner.
- I would strongly suggest that the SPC now focus upon supporting the White Hart owner to make the change and to liaise in ensuring that the shop offering meets the needs of the village residents as expressed in previous village surveys.
Whilst I am convinced that the proposal to convert the barn at the White Hart into a shop would enhance the SNP in a way that would be difficult to emulate there is a question of total transparency and equal opportunity. In order to ascertain if there are any other interested parties, our subco has decided to advertise the “opportunity” and interested individuals can apply to offer the same managed service as outlined above. Our intention is to place a notice on the usual sites and then to allow 14 days for applications to be submitted. Subco will then review all applications against agreed criteria and submit our recommendations to the SPC.
SPC Subco Leader
19th March 2021