An environmental group has called for greater “transparency” from Helston’s councillors and urged them to honour their climate pledge over plans to develop land at the top of town into a retail park.
Last week the Packet reported how a public consultation had begun on a proposed development of land at Hospital Cross into an Aldi supermarket, Range store with garden centre and a McDonald’s.
Linked to this would be the redevelopment of the former Co-op/Budgens store in Trengrouse Way into a “community facility for public use.”
The land is owned by the Downsland Trust, which supports local groups with grants, with the trustees historically made up of serving town councillors.
An “option to buy” agreement is in place with the development company, which has until July 23 next year to apply for planning permission and then until 2022 to take up the option.
However, in an open letter, the Helston Climate Action Group said it “notes with dismay” the proposals, adding that it will oppose plans that members believe will cause long term harm to Helston’s community and the environment.
The group said: “We are particularly alarmed at the lack of transparency by Helston town councillors in arranging this sale, as trustees of the Downsland Trust.
“We call on Helston town councillors to honour the commitments they made when declaring a climate emergency in March 2019 and declaring Helston an Earth Protector Town in December 2019, and reverse course on this sale.
“The announcement trumpets the supposed financial benefits to Helston, but ignores the costs, which the Downsland Trustees appear not to have considered.”
Members highlight the “irreparable environmental damage”, pointing out that currently the fields are sequestering (capturing) carbon and “literally decreasing Helston’s carbon footprint.”
They cited figures provided by Duchy College that suggest grassland can hold anywhere between 150 and 500 tonnes of carbon per hectare, with Hospital approximately two hectares.
Another concern was the inevitable use of concrete – one of the greatest sources of greenhouse gases, said the group – and it would increase vehicular traffic.
The group’s letter goes on to address the “relentless decline in the heart of our town”, adding: “The proposed businesses will directly compete with some of the few local retailers we retain in Helston.
“It is hard to imagine the business of local eateries being unaffected by the arrival of McDonald’s. How will The Range impact on Bowdens Home Hardware?
“We have a fledgling nursery in Helston that has made great efforts to support the local community; how will they be unaffected by a new garden centre?
“And if we truly needed a fourth supermarket in Helston, wouldn’t the Co-op – and later Budgens – have fared better? We’re unaware of any studies that show out of town developments bringing new business into traditional high streets, and would caution against wishful thinking in that regard.”
Members questioned the transparency of the Downland Trust, saying it “holds no public meetings and is not subject to any public scrutiny,” adding: “If this deal is so beneficial to the people of Helston, why has there never been any consultation with our community?”
And they also questioned a potential conflict of interest. “As councillors, they are legally prevented from having a say on planning applications made by the developers, because they essentially own the land. They will be unable, as a council, to raise any objections whatsoever to anything the developers propose.
“It will be for us, the community of Helston, to engage with the planning process while the people democratically placed to represent us are forced to sit on their hands,” they said.
“We do not think this state of affairs can continue. We propose that the Downsland Trust immediately review its constitution to bring in independent members of the Helston community and relevant stakeholders, so that important decisions like this can be made with transparency and some semblance of independence.”
The Packet has contacted the Downsland Trust for a response.