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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 28/10/2003
Wonersh Village Stores



Summary & Purpose
This report draws attention to the closure of the Wonersh Village Stores and Post Office which is an essential community facility that has been trading successfully for many years. The report proposes undertaking an independent financial valuation of the shop and associated land with a view to encouraging a solution that will result in the retention of a viable shop and post office for the future.

The resource, environmental, and other implications are referred to in the report.


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Introduction

1. Wonersh Village Stores has been trading very successfully for many years under the management of the present owner. In June 2001, the property was advertised for sale with an asking price of 650,000. The Community was very concerned about the prospect of closure and a public meeting was held. Following the meeting, a community association, Wonersh Village Stores Ltd (the Shop Association), was formed, to raise the funds for the purchase of the shop element of the site and retain the shop for future generations. The Association, with advice from the Village Retail Services Association (VIRSA), an educational trust whose purpose is to help villagers retain their shop and post office, quickly raised 140,000 from villagers and other supporters. The Countryside Agency also agreed to support the scheme from their Vital Villages Fund.

2. Ongoing discussions took place between the owner and Wonersh Village Stores Limited. Agreement was reached on the need to reconfigure the layout on the site to create a separate house for the owner to sell independently and a separate shop. In November 2001, agreement was reached for the sale of the shop element of the site and a price agreed. The Shop Association applied and obtained planning permission for the agreed alterations. However, after planning consent had been obtained, the owner withdrew from the earlier agreement and said that he wished to sell the whole site instead.

3. In June 2002, the owner closed the Post Office element of the shop. Waverley Officers and the Surrey Village Shops Adviser have had regular meetings with the Post Office’s Rural Adviser with a view to ensuring the continuing provision of the post office in the village. Wonersh is in a priority rural area for the re-opening of a post office. However, following the closure of a post office in such circumstances there is normally a period of 12 months to try and find an alternative location for a post office. If an alternative scheme cannot be found or if progress towards a solution is not evident, the post office may then make the closure permanent and does not need to reopen a post office in the village. The critical review date for Wonersh, therefore, is June 2003.

4. In July 2002, the Clerk to the Parish Council asked the Chairman of the Executive a question about closure of the post office and potential closure of the shop. In reply, the Chairman referred to the clear criteria that need to be met before any other use of the land could be considered and to the powers which the Council has to retain such facilities including, as a last resort, compulsory purchase powers. He referred specifically to the strong Local Plan policies that are in place to secure the retention of important community facilities such as village shops, post offices, pubs and pharmacies that are essential to those with limited mobility or without access to a car. The Chairman hoped a solution could be found without the need for intervention by Waverley, but asked that officers monitor the situation and advise if the Council should take further action to safeguard the shop and meet the needs of the wider community.

5. The owner and a prospective developer came up with a further proposal to develop the site, but the developer subsequently withdrew.

6. In February 2003, the Shop Association offered to purchase the whole site with a view to selling the residential property after the necessary alterations had been completed. However, an agreed price could not be reached. In March 2003, the owner rejected the offer and closed the shop.

7. This is a very unusual situation. As recently as November 2002, the owner told officers how successful and profitable the shop was, even without the post office. A Shop Association has been formed and has been working with wide community support to retain an important community asset. Yet, the shop has been closed.

8. The Local Government Act 2000 provides Councils with responsibility to safeguard the economic social and environmental well-being of the community. The principle of retaining important community assets such as the village shop is well established in the Local Plan and in a wide range of government documents such as the Rural White Paper and recent documents on ‘rural proofing’ and access to services in rural areas.

Community Safety Implication

9. The following factors have been identified in relation to the impact of this report as part of the section 17 requirements of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998:

Experience elsewhere suggests that the longer the site is left empty the more likely it is that there will be damage to or graffiti on the property and this would then lead to greater concern in the community.

Resource/Environmental Implications

10. The location of the Village Shop and Post Office in Wonersh is within the conservation area and forms an important part of the street scene. If there is no shop in the community, there will be additional trips made by car with consequential environmental impacts. The lack of a shop also has detrimental economic, and social impacts.

11. The costs for the valuation will be met from the Business Support and Economic Development Budget.

"Opportunities for All" implications

12. The Post Office and Village Shop are essential local services for a village community and particularly so for those with mobility difficulties or no access to a car. The post office element is of particular importance to the elderly and more disadvantaged members of the community.

Conclusion

13. From the above report, it can be seen that a considerable amount of effort has gone in to trying to safeguard the future of the shop in Wonersh. The issue in relation to Wonersh shop appears to be one about the value of the site. From a community perspective, the issue is about retaining a vital community asset. The Council has specific compulsory purchase powers which it can use, if needed, to secure the retention of this important facility. However, before considering whether the Council should use these powers, it is proposed that an independent valuation of the site is undertaken by the District Valuer, with a view to encouraging a satisfactory outcome that will result in a fair price for the site and the retention of the village shop and post office.

Recommendation

It is recommended that the officers:

1. commission an independent valuation of the property, the costs to be met from the Business Support and Economic Development Budget, with a view to encouraging further discussions that may result in the retention of a viable shop and post office in the village; and

2. continue to monitor the situation and bring back a further report, if necessary, for members to consider the options for moving towards the purchase of the property in a back to back deal with Wonersh Village Stores Ltd, or another developer, to safeguard the future of the shop.

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Background Papers (CEX)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.
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CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Iain Lynch Telephone: 01483 523203
E-mail: ilynch@waverley.gov.uk

Comms/exec/2002-03/610 35008