LETTER: Bold action needed to save town

I write with growing frustration at key issues that have concerned Newton Stewart over the past few years and which give others the distinct impression that, while other places are artist or food or book towns, we are most certainly Nimby town.

In addition, the Save our Streets campaign is very admirable but, having been accosted by drunken youths wanting a “square go” at 6pm on Saturday night down a very dimly-lit Morton’s Entry lane, I’m not sure what exactly we are trying to save.

If the owners of adjacent businesses exerted the same efforts at keeping such youths from their premises as they do objecting to free market competition from the proposed new supermarket, then the problem would be solved.

I am very relieved that the planning application deadline has passed for the proposed supermarket as this will stop me from being cajoled into signing a petition in several Newton Stewart shops which was becoming a regular and overly passionate pastime for some staff.

On one occasion, I was reliably informed that my wife and children should sign the petition also and that some residents had signed it twice – and some as part of a national witchhunt against supermarkets in general. So some very serious questions should be asked of the petition in general, given the chutzpah in its production and eagerness for some to quote the thousands it allegedly represents.

I would also like to inquire why some of the key prominent objectors’ good ladies are doing the “big shop” in Morrisons in Stranraer and Tesco in Castle Douglas. What is wrong with the local high street? Or is it only good enough for odds and sods?

I would also like to inquire what is the correct number of retail outlets for the town and surrounding area? Has someone produced a plan? Should we look to limit pet shops to two, newsagents to three, petrol stations to four? Where is the sound economic science behind stating the new supermarket is one too many? It’s all blatant nimby-ism for some, and self-protectionism for others, who have cajoled the sheep into signing a petition which has become a convenient fashion statement.

The convenient truth is local people will increasingly drive east to Castle Douglas and Dumfries or west to Stranraer because Newton Stewart just doesn’t have the selection or choice for consumers or the draw appeal for shoppers as it used to. Once Stranraer has its flagship supermarket on prime real estate along the seafront it will draw even more customers westwards.

So how do we compete? Well, as a starting point, reputation is important and being renowned as a town that welcomes and encourages development is vital. As other correspondents have pointed out, we simply cannot afford to turn such opportunities away. Our business community should be trying to forge links with any new business looking for partnerships and inter-dependent benefits.

The idle notion that the site sits on Pluto compared to the town is ludicrous. There is little geographical difference in the distance between Tesco in Castle Douglas and Moore’s chip shop (the last business in Castle Douglas) as there is between the Starfish (the last business in Newton Stewart) and the new site at Barnkirk.

Blind nimby-ism also exists with regards the new steel fabrication site at Barnkirk which apparently will upset a few donkeys and nags. The objectors use the tried and trusted reasons from dark skies to River Cree pollution to traffic volumes. Really? The truth, again, is that they don’t want to lose the view from the front window.

With a more positive approach we can see the true potential available here with the option of redeveloping the old station yard area and linking Barnkirk developments right into the town providing jobs and development opportunities. If these sites are developed what possibilities are there to attract further jobs and development?

The planning committee has a tough job. To refuse the Barnkirk supermarket means it would also have to refuse Stranraer’s and, given it is on the seafront masterplan as a vital starter development, caution needs to be exerted to avoid setting precedents.

I’m sure wisdom will prevail in the end and bold steps will be taken to promote Newton Stewart as a destination for Machars locals and retain some much-needed cash for the biggest prize of all – “Saving Our Town”, not simply Saving our Streets”.

Robert Wallace,

King Street, Newton Stewart.