Westbridge Park is a very special place. Originally the site of the town rubbish tip and owned by Stone Urban District Council, it was handed over to Stafford Borough Council when local government reorganisation took place in the 1970's because the then Town Council didn't think they could afford to maintain it. It's been used ever since as a place of recreation, sport and leisure. A green open space linking the meadows to the north and south to form a unique linear green lung embracing the river and canal and separating the town and Walton.
But being the only large level area of land in a central location it has been the constant target of rumours of redevelopment for years. And no more so than in recent times. We've all heard the rumours! Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsburys - according to a 'man in the pub' they've all got plans to build on it!
Sadly, I guess there may be some truth in the rumours. It is obvious that Stafford Borough Council are strapped for cash and Westbridge Park must be worth a small fortune.
But surely, I've heard people say, they wouldn't be allowed to build on Westbridge Park, would they? Well ponder on this. Last year Stafford Borough Council published their draft 'Plan for Stafford Borough' If adopted this document will form the basis of future development plans in the borough. There's a whole section about Stone. And in a section called 'Core Policy 7' it states that the Borough Council will seek to strengthen the town centre's role as a Market Town by "encouraging the development and expansion of the town centre to provide a vibrant place where people can meet, shop, eat and spend leisure time in a safe and pleasant environment including provision of mixed use development at Westbridge Park". It can't be plainer than that, can it?
This draft document apparently went out to consultation in September and October last year but I have yet to meet any one who knew about it. Looking at the Council's website, it would appear that only one comment was made about this particular proposal - and that from an 'insider' who could be said to have an interest in the matter. I suppose the next thing that will happen is that the 'mixed use development' idea will appear in a glossy document which will state that there were no objections received after a full consultation!
So why have I gone into so much detail? Well, Cllr. Mike Heenan, leader of the Borough Council was quoted in last week's Newsletter as saying that "there were no plans to sell off the park" and that if the situation changed "no decision would be taken without a full consultation of the people of Stone". Well, at first sight, that may be reassuring. But if the Council are trying to adopt a policy of permitting 'mixed use development' on Westbridge Park, the people of Stone need to be aware of it.
It's high time the people of Stone were made aware of the Borough Council's proposals. And the idea of any type of development - mixed use or otherwise - needs to be scotched. Westbridge Park is very special to the people of Stone and should be retained in it's present state for future generations. I thought I'd retired from town politics but unless someone else takes up the cudgels, I feel another campaign coming on!