TWO Motherwell councillors who supported Sainsbury’s application to build a store in the town have hit out after being ‘advised’ to stay away from the meeting at which its fate was decided.
Last week North Lanarkshire councillors voted 28-14 to reject the supermarket giant’s plan to open a 95,000 sq ft store on the former bus garage site in Hamilton Road as it didn’t fit with the local plan which says it should be used for housing.
A total of 24 councillors missed the meeting which is supposed to be attended for all elected members, but two of them, Motherwell West councillor Paul Kelly and Motherwell South East and Ravenscraig councillor Gary O’Rorke claim their absence was enforced by council officials.
Councillor Kelly said: “I was advised not to take part by the council’s head of legal services as I had reached an opinion prior to the hearing.
“This greatly disappoints me as I feel I was correct to give an opinion to those who elect me over the last year, due to the scale of this development and the importance to our area.
“I was also very disappointed by the decision taken by the council as I personally believe a development of this nature and in the location chosen would be a great boost to Motherwell and the wider area.”
Councillor O’Rorke added: “It was really disappointing that I was advised not to take part which came as a surprise to me as a newly elected member that you cannot give an opinion on such a major development.
“During the recent council elections I was asked by hundreds of local residents to give an opinion as many felt it was an election issue due to the scale of this development and the positive impact they felt it would have in our local area.”
The planning hearing heard arguments from Sainsbury’s and site owners Barratt Homes as to why the application should be allowed, while the main opposition Chester Properties, owners of the Brandon Shopping Centre, argued against it.
Around two dozen members of the public spoke both in support and against the plan as a packed public gallery watched on.
However, only SNP leader David Stocks, who supported the project, addressed the council from among the elected members before the vote was taken.
Sainsbury’s are now considering their position.
Paul Miller, national development surveyor for Sainsbury’s Scotland, said: “We are very disappointed that North Lanarkshire Council refused our proposal which we believe would have brought bring a number of benefits to the local area.
“We would like to thank the local community in Motherwell for their overwhelming support and will now be considering the options open to us before moving forward.”
Local resident Jackie Jeffrey, who addressed the planning hearing, added: “I feel the town deserved this investment, it’s a great shame the council could not see this also.”
Chester Properties director Tom Tyler says they will now look at taking forward proposals for a 65,000 sq ft cantilevered supermarket in Brandon Parade East.
He said: “Obviously we are pleased with the council’s decision as it was important to protect the 1,300 jobs in the town centre.
“There is still a lot to do and now we have to pursue a potential occupier for our proposed store before we move on with the design and planning stages.”
Motherwell and Wishaw’s MP and MSP Frank Roy and John Pentland hit out at the decision.
Mr Roy said: “I am very disappointed that this proposal has been rejected and I think it’s a lost opportunity for Motherwell.”
Mr Pentland added: “I hope Sainsbury’s remain committed to investing in this area, and I encourage the company to continue to work with the local community to take things forward.”