East Boldre Village Stores committee hits stumbling block in campaign to save shop
A COMMUNITY group in East Boldre has hit another stumbling block in its quest to protect the future of the village shop.
Residents had earlier this year offered to take out a lease on the store, which owner Ian Evans had for several years tried to sell as a commercial property.
But now he has launched a planning bid to switch the building’s use to solely residential – weeks after residents won approval for their application to expand the store.
The earlier lease deal broke down when Mr Evans announced his intention to sell the shop. Villagers on the East Boldre Community Stores (EBCS) management committee declared they would purchase the property.
Their hopes were boosted when a £250,000 grant was awarded from the government’s Community Ownership Fund to help acquire the store.
However, Mr Evans’ counter-bid is to convert the building’s use from mixed to residential to maximise his profits when he sells up.
In a letter to the national park authority, he questioned the need for a shop in the village given that locals had “voted with their feet”, turning to online shopping, particularly since the pandemic.
His application was discussed at the latest meeting of the parish council, one of whose members, Cllr Rebecca Gabzdyl, also sits on the village shop committee. However, Cllr Gabzdyl did not vote on the matter.
While the final decision rests with the NPA, parish councillors recommended the plan be thrown out on the grounds the shop was a “valuable community asset relied upon by villagers”.
But Mr Evans claimed some councillors should have refrained from voting on the matter because of their involvement in the save the shop campaign. The parish council say these members did declare a non-pecuniary interest before voting.
His letter went on: “People do not come to the shop to meet – they come because they want to buy something, and some customers can be quite rude and want quick service.
“In over 20 years of running the shop I have never heard anyone say, ‘Lets meet at the shop for a chat?’”
The committee said it is now “refocusing” its plans but insisted it was still on course to purchase the building.
“Ian and EBCS still see the potential for a win-win solution and continue to work cooperatively,” said Mrs Gabzdyl.
“The value of Barton Villa increases if there is a change to solely residential use. All EBCS seeks, in its objection to this planning application, is to retain the status quo; the owner being no better or worse off than when he bought this mixed-use property.”
As well as the grant, financial pledges have also been made by local residents to the committee totalling £150,000, said Mrs Gabzdyl.
With regard to those members with an interest in the fate of the shop voting on Mr Evans' application, the authority said it had taken advice from the Hampshire Association of Local Councils, which had assured members they had “done nothing wrong”.
The NPA said it was unable to comment on the ramifications of two counter-applications for the same property.