A FOREST of hands shot up at a packed Jedburgh town hall this week, as residents voted overwhelmingly in support of the town having a new supermarket.
The meeting had been organised on behalf of the local Voice & Choice campaign, which wants Kelso-based developer, Crabtree & Crabtree, to succeed with its plans to build a 14,000sqft store in the town’s Edinburgh Road.
The application, for the former Oregon Timber Frame factory, has been refused once by Scottish Borders Council planning committee, but the developers resubmitted it in the wake of the public outcry in Jedburgh after the first refusal.
Campaign spokesperson Dot Millar told TheSouthern that the meeting had been a great success as far as she was concerned. “There was a brilliant turn-out – there must have been 200 people in the hall,” she said.
“At the end we had a show of hands and there were only eight that went up opposed to the supermarket application. It was obvious that people were there to find out the facts and to make it crystal clear what they wanted to see in their town.”
Jeanette Thomson, from consultants Smithy House Associates, which helped organise the meeting, said she was delighted with the public response.
“The meeting was clearly in favour of the supermarket. As well as the large number of people who have joined the online Facebook campaign, over 500 people have signed the paper petition.”
Jedburgh Community Council chairman Richard Gordon attended the meeting and agreed there appeared to be overwhelming support for the supermarket. “Most folk seem to be of the view that the 100 jobs they say would be created by this development are better than this site being left to sit empty.
“I think the views at the meeting in support of the scheme are fairly representative of the views being expressed to community councillors by residents.
“Something has to be done to stop the leakage of trade to other towns. We need more competition and Jedburgh just doesn’t have that at the moment.”
Two of the town’s three Scottish Borders councillors, Len Wyse and Jim Brown, are in favour of the scheme, with only Sandy Scott reluctant to support it.
Mr Wyse told the meeting: “Although in the past all the local members did ask for this site to be kept in the local plan as an employment area, I still say that to put in a facility that may create up to 100 full and part time jobs is indeed good use of the land.
“In this day and age, when unemployment is rising and our school leavers can’t get a job, then who in their right mind would turn this opportunity down?
“It would be nice to get another Starrett’s, Mainetti or even an industry a quarter the size, but I’m sorry, there is not a queue of firms lined up to move in.
“How often are we in Gala, Hawick and now Kelso and bump into many folk from our town and district? I say let’s keep them in our area, save on fuel and I do believe it will save our High Street.”
However, another attendee, Diana Cairns, chairperson of Jedburgh Traders Association, told TheSouthern after the meeting that she and her members still believe an out-of-town supermarket will eventually economically damage Jedburgh’s already struggling High Street.
“The traders would like to think that such a supermarket would help the town and help the High Street, but that’s not the experience of other small towns – an experience borne out by hard facts and figures,” she said.
“Those at the meeting were obviously in favour and I agree the local Co-op needs competition. But we’re very concerned. The facts and figures show what happens to towns when such developments are permitted. This could wreck our High Street for the next 20 years.”
Councillor Scott also sounded a note of warning:”It was a well-attended meeting, but a pretty one-sided demonstration by supporters of the supermarket.
“People seem to be just glossing over the fact it is the same application which has been lodged and the same planning policies and arguments against it will apply when it comes before the committee.”
Mr Scott added that arguments based on the fact that a retail operator, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, was allowed to open on the other side of the road from the Oregon Timber site, is irrelevant.
“It does not matter about the nearby woollen mill shop – the planning policy in question refers specifically to this site [Oregon Timber] and that policy was only approved back in February/March, so it’s hardly out of date.”