Sleaford Market Place plans back before committee despite further opposition

Amended plans for Sleaford’s Market Place will be recommended for approval next week, despite continued concerns from residents and businesses.
The Sleaford Christmas Market was bustling earlier last weekend, prompting some to question how it would look in the future on social media. | Image: Sleaford Town Council FacebookThe Sleaford Christmas Market was bustling earlier last weekend, prompting some to question how it would look in the future on social media. | Image: Sleaford Town Council Facebook
The Sleaford Christmas Market was bustling earlier last weekend, prompting some to question how it would look in the future on social media. | Image: Sleaford Town Council Facebook

North Kesteven District Council was forced back to the drawing board on its £1 million proposal to transform the area and “reshape the town’s heart” at last month’s planning committee. Now, the plans are back up for approval on Tuesday (December 12).

Councillors raised concerns over fair access, the materials used, engagement with heritage assets, the loss of traders’ toilets, deliveries, and the protection of the war memorial.

The plans had, at the time, received over 100 objections, including a petition with more than 1,000 signatures.

A visualisation of how the revamped Market Place would look.A visualisation of how the revamped Market Place would look.
A visualisation of how the revamped Market Place would look.

NKDC’s vision is to replace car park spaces with paving, lighting, and seating areas, creating a vibrant public space with extra outdoor seating.

The amended plans propose increasing disabled parking on East Gate and in nearby Church Lane Car Park.

On Sundays, disabled users attending church services will be allowed access, with church wardens managing bollard access. As part of these plans, the car-shaped bike rack installed a few years ago will be relocated.

Despite initially considering adding three permanent disabled parking spaces on Market Place, the authority still views such parking as “detrimental to the space’s utility for market traders, church vehicles, and events, and potentially unsightly and harmful to the historic setting”.

A visualisation of how the revamped Market Place would look.A visualisation of how the revamped Market Place would look.
A visualisation of how the revamped Market Place would look.

Time-controlled delivery access for Market Place businesses is proposed, with owners given keys to the bollards for access.

A variety of seating solutions are proposed to allow visitors to engage with the heritage assets of the area, including bench seating and a seating wall around landscaped beds.

Plans to remove barriers around the war memorial have been withdrawn, and instead, the existing bollards will be repainted black, as opposed to their current black and gold colouring.

The existing market hut, which includes a locked toilet for market traders, will still be removed. The council said alternative public toilet provision is nearby.

A visualisation of how the revamped Market Place would look.A visualisation of how the revamped Market Place would look.
A visualisation of how the revamped Market Place would look.

The council continues to believe that the materials used will respect the market and its historic setting.

In the report before the committee, officers felt the amendments addressed the concerns raised in the previous meeting.

They added that the proposal aligned with various local plans and policies, such as the Sleaford Masterplan and the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan.

The report emphasises the statutory duty of the council to preserve heritage assets, noting the project’s potential to enhance the town centre’s heritage and townscape.

A visualisation of how the revamped Market Place would look.A visualisation of how the revamped Market Place would look.
A visualisation of how the revamped Market Place would look.

While acknowledging some disadvantages, such as the removal of general parking and impact on nearby businesses, the report suggested that these were outweighed by the proposal’s alignment with policy objectives and heritage considerations.

Council officers stated: “Officers are content that the issues raised in the deferral of the application have been suitably addressed by the applicant.”

However, the latest plans have sparked a further 80 objections from local residents and a further 120 signature petition, bringing the overall total to 201 objections from 152 respondents.

In addition, the two petitions from ‘Save Sleaford’ now total 1,125 signatures. Many objections centre around the proposed provision of disabled parking.

Critics argue that adding only two additional disabled parking spaces does not adequately address the needs of blue badge holders, who may struggle with mobility and require convenient access.

Concerns are also raised about the suitability of these spaces, including for minibuses with tail lifts or ramps, and the practicality of alternative parking provisions, such as Church Lane car park.

The absence of dropped kerbs and unsafe surfaces in the proposed areas further exacerbate these issues.

There is also mention of a significant number of blue badge holders in the surrounding areas, underscoring the demand for accessible parking.

Additional objections relate to the operational and design aspects of the redevelopment.

There is scepticism about the feasibility and safety of the proposed parking management, particularly the reliance on churchwardens for controlling access.

Concerns are also expressed about the suitability of the new surfacing material, with fears that it could be easily damaged and may not be wheelchair-friendly.

Other points include the inadequacy of the proposed delivery and waste collection arrangements for local businesses, the lack of toilet facilities for market traders, and the potential hazards of mixing vehicles and pedestrians in the area.

Disability campaigner Anthony Henson continued to voice strong objections to the plan, and criticised the proposed operational changes as unworkable and lacking in necessary considerations for accessibility and safety.

Mr Henson is frustrated with the council’s approach, stating: “NKDC is using every element of effort and procedure to foist on Sleaford something it doesn’t want.

“Spending the Levelling Up funds should be something where most people say ‘that’s good’ or ‘that’s great,’ not ‘what the hell do they think they are doing?'”

Representing local businesses and organisations, the Sleaford Market Place Group expressed significant concerns about the redevelopment plans.

In a statement submitted on their behalf by Robert Doughty, they emphasised the lack of meaningful engagement and consultation with local businesses, which they believe could have positively influenced the revised proposals.

Mr Doughty stated: “The amendments confirm that the original proposals were flawed, and we are now presented with a compromised scheme that directly impacts our businesses without any proper engagement.”

Catherine Batsford, a local resident, vehemently objected to the proposed changes to Sleaford Market Place.

She criticised the plans as being insensitive to the needs of the elderly, those with mobility issues, and the local businesses that rely on the availability of parking.

Mrs Batsford passionately stated: “Pass these plans at your peril. They will be a death knell for the town.”

MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham Dr Caroline Johnson has also quizzed the council on behalf of concerned resident Katherine Marlow who had written to her on the matter.

NKDC Chief executive Ian Fytche responded to Dr Johnson saying: “The fact is that the council has engaged with a wide range of local stakeholders over a number of years, identifying the ambition for the regeneration of Market Place through its closure as a car park, and embedding this ambition in a number of local policy and guidance documents.”

He said there was no rule that requires the council to advise people on their intention to submit a planning application.

"The claim that the removal of car parking from the Market Place will harm the market and other events is not accepted; indeed, the contrary position is taken, the operation of the space as a car park inhibits the use of the historic open space in the centre of the town for the market, for events, to reveal its heritage. There are tangible benefits to removing the conflict with cars enabling the space to be revealed and better used.”

Local resident Tom Bliss said the level of opposition suggests the application goes completely against the grain of public opinion and he had sent letters to each councillor trying to convince them that that the present multi-use marketplace is already successful.

He said: “In addition to being a car park providing a high number of disabled blue badge users with convenient access to banks and 54 businesses in the vicinity, it provides a safe haven for women attending the nearby gym or various eating places at night.

“The annual Remembrance Sunday parade to the War Memorial in the centre of the square will be completely disrupted. The very popular Christmas market and other events throughout the year will also no longer be able to function in the new 'piazza'.

”The scheme's proposals for market traders' continued use of the square include removal of the lavatory built for their use and denies access to their vehicles (two are a fishmonger and a butcher who cannot operate from an unrefrigerated stall), offering alternative arrangements to load and unload their wares on the other side of the two-lane Eastgate highway. Whilst pretending to assist the traders, the scheme guarantees the end of this historic market.”