Planning committee calls a pause for clarity on plans to redesign Sleaford Market Place

North Kesteven District Council’s planning committee members have deferred a decision on a controversial £1million scheme to redevelop Sleaford Market Place.
An impression of how the redesigned Sleaford Market Place would look. Image: NKDCAn impression of how the redesigned Sleaford Market Place would look. Image: NKDC
An impression of how the redesigned Sleaford Market Place would look. Image: NKDC

After two hours of discussion, councillors at last night’s (Tuesday) meeting voted 12 in favour with one abstention of holding off on green-lighting the project proposed by the district council using a UK Shared Prosperity Fund grant, in order to gain more clarity and information about some aspects and details.

The proposal aims to redesign and open up the historic buildings and views of the Market Place by acting as a magnet for both locals and visitors to spend more time.

The council's vision is to replace car park spaces with new sandstone set paving and gravel resin textured areas, new lighting to enhance the war memorial, and seating areas dotted around, celebrating the listed buildings and conservation area surrounding the Market Place

They believe local cafes could benefit from extra outdoor seating.

The plans were recommended for approval by officers at the meeting who said the benefits outweighed any negative aspects to the plan, but they had received more than 100 objections, including a petition of more than 1,000 signatures.

Concerns have been raised about the impact on businesses due to the dust of construction and difficulty in getting deliveries of stock and the loss of easy access parking for disabled people to visit the shops and the church.

Many believe removing the parking would discourage visitors, particularly the elderly or disabled and make it difficult for events in the square such as Remembrance parades and the Christmas market.

Other opinions suggest asking market traders to keep their stock in Eastgate car park would result in them leaving and effectively "killing off" the market itself because they would be unable to load/unload stock on site. There are also concerns that chilled vehicles, such as those used by butchers and fishmongers, wouldn't be allowed on site, pushing them away.

There have also been concerns about how vehicles would access St Denys' Church for ceremonies, including weddings and funerals due to lack of space to maneouvre hearses and limousines.

Viewed by 45 members of the public who attended the meeting, Darren Turner, on behalf of the applicant, said the plans would build upon a long-term aspiration to reinstate the Market Place.

He said the move would "create a suitable and hardwearing" space for public use all year round.

"It will create an attractive public realm of easy and safe movement, improve legibility and improve diversity through a mixed-use space."

"Making the space more pedestrian-focused and having fewer polluting vehicles will enhance the character of the space and encourage use."

However, speakers against the plans included Sleaford Town Councillor Alison Snookes and businessman Ken Hanslip.

Both said that they would be willing to work with the council.

Coun Snookes said there had been a lack of consultation and compromise and the church had not agreed to the limit of three parking spaces for ceremonies, while the Town council needed easy access for its work vehicles to maintain the church yard.

"Each of these disbenefits individually is a big concern but put together they sum up the flaws in these planning proposals which will have a long-term negative, if not fatal impact on the purposes of the market place," she said.

Ken Hanslip, who runs Bellissimo Boutique, told the councillors that despite surviving COVID and lockdown, "we will not survive this plan, and many other businesses in the marketplace will not survive this."

"The marketplace is a blank canvas, it's a multi-use site, used for ceremonials, used for events, used for markets and so on and the market itself is used as a car park. I would have thought that was a total planners dream but then what do I know," he said.

In the end, a proposal for deferral was put forwarded by Coun Marianne Overton and seconded by Coun Ian Carrington for six reasons:

Ensuring disabled people have fair access.

Clarity on materials demonstrating how they reflect, preserve, and enhance the heritage of the square.

Reassessment of seating to ensure people can engage with the heritage assets.

Reconsideration of the removal of the toilet block for traders.

Ensuring provision for business is reconsidered, such as timed access for deliveries.

Considering simple, unobtrusive protection for the war memorial.

During the debate, many councillors were in favour of enhancing the market place in principal, but had issues with the detail. Coun Overton raised doubts about the overall look of the scheme.

Referring to the gravel resin surfacing around the monument, she said: "There does not appear to be any reflection of the characteristics you see in the church or the other nearby buildings... this is against the policy.”

She added: "As for revealing the heritage value of the buildings, I fail to see how planting significant trees there reveals anything, it does not reveal the church."

She and Coun Robert Oates also pointed out that taking the bollards and chains away from around the war memorial risked it being damaged by people climbing and sitting on it when the stone work was in a fragile state, even noting that a graphic showed someone sitting on the steps of the memorial, branding it “disrespectful”.

Coun Ian Carrington's primary concerns were around disabled parking and the practicality of access to the Market Place from alternative car parks for disabled users. “I have genuine concerns about disabled parking being completely removed.”

However, he reminded colleagues of similar schemes across the county which had benefited the towns they took part in.

"I would feel much more comfortable about supporting the general thrust of this, which is to do good for Sleaford to improve the market place for the benefits of businesses and for residents if we just nail down some of these other factors," said Coun Carrington.

Following the meeting, Mr Hanslip told our Local Democracy Reporter: "The option to send it back for rejigging and improvement is positive.

"We would certainly like to be part of that, and I would hope the district council takes away the points raised by members and gives us good proper consultation, along with good access for our business to continue."

North Kesteven District Council Leader Councillor Richard Wright said: "It gives us that opportunity to look at the concerns raised by the committee and address them and that is something I believe can be done.

"It was good that the principle for development was agreed but we need to address those issues and bring them back for a scheme that is good for Sleaford.

In doing so he said they will be mindful of the tight timescale to get the work done by March 2025 in order to secure the funding and prove they have spent the money correctly, and so they were getting onto the details straight away.

Coun Wright said the disability access point was the most important to address: “There was never any intention to stop any kind of access into the Market Place, it was designed to increase access.”

He said that no other key car parks are being closed and so the council needed to prove that there was adequate disabled parking access for all so that people can get to all the shopping areas. “The reality is we have legislation that guides us about access.”

As for suggestions of having periods of access for deliveries and arrangements for funerals, Coun Wright described them as operational matters that were always up for discussion: “The committee report dealt with planning requirements, but it is now about making sure that we go beyond that, looking at points raised.”