Newport deserves better!

Controversial plans for a new retail and leisure complex at St George’s Park in Newport, the former home of Newport Football Club, were approved at a planning meeting on Tuesday. There were five votes and two against with two abstentions.

IW Councillor Julie Jones-Evans, who represents Newport Central and owns the Dragonfly shop in St James’ Street, described the scheme as ‘absolutely terrible’ and claimed that approving them showed the Council was prepared to disregard its own regeneration strategy. As a result of the decision, she later resigned from the planning committee.

South Coast Leisure (SCL), who own the site, claim the development will lead to 200 jobs and suggested that retail giants Aldi and Wickes, a garden centre and a drive-through McDonalds restaurant would be coming to Newport.

Planning officers recommended the application be approved, as impact assessments had been undertaken showing that the development would only have a small impact on Newport town centre.

But Cllr Jones-Evans said: “There was a complete lack of discussion about policy and this vote shows the Council is at odds with its own regeneration strategy. It feels as though the Council is working against those of us who want to improve Newport. But we’re not going to give up. Newport deserves better than another burger joint and yet more national chains selling cheap disposable goods and taking money off the Island.

“I fundamentally disagreed with the officers’ conclusions that the viability of the town centre would not be unduly affected by this new development. National figures published this week show a four per cent year on year down-turn on high street foot-fall and a one per cent increase in retail park foot-fall.”

Peter Hartnell, the managing director of W Hurst and Son who have traded on the Island for 160 years agreed. He said: “This development can only be detrimental to a town centre that is already struggling. It needs help rather than more out of town competition. I understand they expect people to park and then walk into town, in my view that is completely unrealistic. It is very frustrating, the general consensus seems to be that this is bad news for Newport.

However, Councillor John Kilpatrick who voted in favour said that his vote had been in support of Newport Football Club, pointing out: “The current building is very dilapidated, and if this didn’t go through then the football club wouldn’t have a home. The sale of this land will pay for their new ground.”

Tony Wake of SLC said: “I have lived and traded in the Newport area for many years and completely understand the economic and social importance of the High Street.

“As part of the planning process we were happy to undertake a full assessment of the impact the retail park would have on the town centre and this impact was not found to be significant. Moreover, we believe the retail park will give people a new reason to visit Newport and the creation of around 200 new jobs will provide a significant boost of the local economy.

“SCL has been a keen supporter of Newport Football Club in every aspect for many years. It is this support that has kept the club afloat. Our support for Newport FC remains unwavering and we are absolutely committed ti ensuring its future by creating the new WightFibre Park stadium which will be not just a fantastic and sustainable football stadium but a sporting facility that will provide many other community benefits.”

After the meeting Julie Jones-Evans said: “I resigned because the planning committee is not functioning well. There was a lot of confusion in an earlier vote when two members wanted to vote against an officer recommendation ended up voting in favour. I was also angered by an officer who said she wasn’t prepared to answer any more questions.”