“PEOPLE are fed up with charity shops, banks and building societies in Shirley and just because we build the Parkgate development doesn’t mean that they will stop supporting the butchers and greengrocers and shops they love,” says Robert Birch of Shirley Advance.
We’re talking in the wake of the public exhibition held to promote the controversial new centre at Shirley Baptist Church, and there’s no doubting his passion for the scheme, and it would seem the powers-that-be agree.
Mary Travers, the inspector appointed by the then secretary of state for the 2008 inquiry into the compulsory purchase order of the land for Parkgate said there was ‘a compelling case in the public interest’ for the scheme before adding that Parkgate “would contribute significantly to the economic, social and environmental well-being of the borough.”
Mr Birch is fortified too by positive comments from the public exhibition and there seems little doubt that the downturn caused by the recession and the resulting more modest scheme is winning more hearts over.
However, two sticking points remain with the £35 million project: the issue of another supermarket in Shirley and the loss of four per cent of Shirley parkland.
There is no doubt that Asda is a powerful magnet for shoppers and would attract people from a wide area, creating 400 full and part-time jobs in the process.
“The scheme would create a much larger traffic island at Haslucks Green Road and the Stratford Road, large enough to cope with Parkgate and any future development of the Powergen site,” said Mr Birch.
The fear is that, should Parkgate fail, Asda could develop the Powergen site instead, effectively leaving Shirley, with two powerful supermarket chains at either end of the Stratford Road, with nothing in the middle and no reason to go there.
On the loss of parkland and open space where the ring of oaks stand, Mr Birch admits that, given the option, he too would not want to see any loss of parkland, but is adamant that ‘there is no alternative’.
“We have demonstrated that we have minimised the intrusion and whilst regrettable it’s entirely unavoidable and it will bring benefits which far outweigh the quantative loss of parkland,” he said, referring to the £500,000 earmarked to improve the park through better landscaping, lighting and security.
Mr Birch also emphasised that the meeting of park and development (which previously had won praise from the government inspector) has also been improved with fewer properties being built and a better mix of housing.
He added that with the recession shelving many proposed shopping centres, Parkgate should attract a good range of retailers and if given the go-ahead would be certain to attract a lot of attention from the big names.
“The alternative is that the scheme will fail and Shirley will continue to decline because it is unlikely that any other investment will take place - any investment has to be privately funded and this will only take place with units of the right size with the right scheme.”