More than 100 objections to Sleaford Market revamp plans as councillors prepare to decide

More than 100 objections have been lodged against North Kesteven District Council’s ambitious £1million plans to transform Sleaford Market Place into a communal hub, with even the Town Council having reservations.
An impression of how the Sleaford Market Place plans could look. Image: NKDCAn impression of how the Sleaford Market Place plans could look. Image: NKDC
An impression of how the Sleaford Market Place plans could look. Image: NKDC

Unveiled in July, the council’s vision, using a UK Shared Prosperity Fund grant, aims to swap out car park spaces for new paving, lighting and seating areas, creating a vibrant public space that celebrates the town’s culture and history. Plus, local cafes could get a boost with extra outdoor seating.

But with 1,110-name petitions circulating and residents voicing concerns about the town’s economy and cultural heritage, the council’s officers are recommending approval for the transformation plans, despite opposition, when the district planning committee meets tomorrow (Tuesday, November 7) at 5pm in the council chamber.

Many local businesses, especially those situated on the market place, have voiced concerns about the potential detrimental effects on trade.

Among them are Wendy and Ken Hanslip, owners of Bellissimo Boutique, who fear that the council’s plans might be the final blow to their business, especially after navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising energy bills.

They, along with other businesses, have also raised concerns about the proposed changes to delivery and loading arrangements, which would require them to transport goods across busy roads.

Sleaford Market Place Group, comprising local businesses and organisations connected to the location, said there had been a lack of consultation and accurate understanding of how businesses operate.

“Any planned improvements to and investment in the Market Place would be most welcome, as long as it reflects its pivotal status in the town,” they said.

“The group remains open to engagement with the District Council as the applicant to fully explore the challenges for those who operate from and are based in the Market Place and to consider any alternative proposals that would better serve the businesses, the church and the town as a whole.”

They had previously told the council: “The closure of the Market Place to all vehicles will cause demonstrable harm to the ability of those businesses and organisations that rely on the current arrangement to maintain and service their premises and to attract visitors to them.”

Sleaford Market Place Group believe a better-balanced scheme would include adaptable spaces, areas for commerce, worship and leisure, safe spaces for cafe seating and flexible parking arrangements.

Churchwardens at St Denys’ Church have also objected.

A statement from churchwardens Richard Clash and Sarah Steniford said: “[The application] implies St Denys’ has agreed with NKDC access for three vehicles for funerals/weddings. We are not sure why this is implied and wish to emphasise that no such agreement has been established with NKDC.

“The Parochial Church Council (PCC) is the custodian of parochial church policy and at no stage has the subject of car parking allocation within the Market Place been raised or discussed by the PCC.

“We strongly object to this implication and request NKDC acknowledge an understanding this is not PCC policy.

“While we are not opposed to improvements being made in the Market Place, we feel the consequences of the current plans will have a detrimental effect on its intended usage.

“The congregation of St Denys, which serves a large proportion of elderly people, will experience difficulties in gaining good access to church activities.

“The current plans appear to create what may easily become a no man’s land – very nice looking, but of no practical use to the activities of the church, surrounding businesses, traders or general public.”

The council’s plans also faced opposition from local resident Anthony Henson, who initiated a petition against the proposals.

The petition has since garnered over 1,100 signatures, reflecting the widespread concern within the community.

Mr Henson, who has highlighted access issues for disabled people in the town, also manages a Facebook group, “Save Sleaford,” dedicated to facilitating discussions among residents and businesses about the proposed changes and how to voice their concerns.

“Telling us to park elsewhere once the market is pedestrianised is all well and good, but I fear they don’t understand the focus and effort of navigating a chair like mine requires. It can really wear your brain out,” he said.

“I spoke to other disabled people who say Market Place is one of the few places they can really go without the need to travel that far.”

His views are backed by many others. Elaine Brand, of Pear Tree Close, said: “There is insufficient parking in Sleaford town centre to consider removing more.

“The market is finished if these changes are made, although to be fair the attempts made to encourage more stall holders have failed, even with the current easy access for them.

“The annual remembrance service is a special part of the town’s character, but could not take place in its current form if the proposed changes are made.”

Brett Bennett, of Northfield Road, Quarrington, said: “It is the parking that makes using Sleaford a good choice. Faced with an extended walk with my shopping, I would choose to go to another town. The design is illustrated as though we have a year-round Mediterranean climate which we do not. Sleaford would fail to be a family-friendly town.

“The plans are also very detrimental to those with disabilities, especially blue badge holders, but all those that need to manage their outings with small children and those who are becoming more frail. It is a design that only suits the fit, unencumbered.”

A statement by The MacMillan Group, which included 45 signatures, said: “They wanted to express their complete and utter objection to the plan in being discriminatory to the elderly, infirm and disabled.

“The plan destroys a good space that currently provides many facilities to the town. The new plan provides nothing.”

Not everyone is against the plans, however. Peter Tozer, of Wallis Street, wrote to NKDC to say: “Great to see some positive investment in public spaces within the town centre.

“Hopefully this can attract people to socialise within the square and make public use such as the market more attractive as well as enhancing current and future events such as the Christmas Market which is growing every year.”

Colin Allen, of Church Lane, Scredington, said: “Currently it has limited car parking spaces, and I suspect that most of those who do park there are not visitors, but people who work in the town, so their cars will be there for most of the day, thus making it difficult for genuine shoppers to park there.

“Sleaford really does need to spruce up its image, and by doing this it will open up an attractive part of the town.”

However, he added: “Steps will need to be taken to prevent the new area from becoming a magnet for vandals and litter droppers when the shops shut, but this is a problem everywhere.”

Chris Clark, of Furlong Way, Holdingham, said he highly approved of the proposed changes to Sleaford.

“The disapproval from a few is short-sighted and I fully believe that it can only be a good thing for Sleaford.

“I don’t always agree on these matters, the Riverside changes I hated and still do to this day, but this new suggestion really does seem very sensible.”

Despite the objections, the council remains optimistic about the potential benefits of the revamp.

Officers say that the development proposals align with the long-term vision for the Market Place, as outlined in various policy and guidance documents developed over the years.

While acknowledging concerns such as the removal of car parking and potential disruptions during construction, officers believe that the long-term benefits, including the enhancement of heritage settings and the creation of a vibrant public space, outweigh the short-term challenges.

The officers also believe that enough alternative parking provisions exist in the town centre, so despite the public objections, the officers recommend granting planning permission for the proposals.

They said: “Ultimately, this is significant in providing a substantial degree of weight in support of the proposals. In this context, officers are satisfied that the application proposals will provide a renewed piece of townscape and enable, as the applicant proposes, the Market Place to present a series of opportunities to enhance the town centre.”

Richard Wright, Leader of the Council, has also previously outlined his belief that the transformed space will greatly benefit the town both socially and economically.

The council also anticipates that the project will be part-funded by a £1m government grant, with construction slated to begin in spring 2024.

During the construction phase, the market is expected to be relocated to another part of the town centre.