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CAMPAIGNERS have vowed to continue their work to save the village shop in Whitley despite a blow to their plans by Wiltshire Council.
The group’s application to have the building that houses the shop and Post Office on Top Lane in Whitley – The Toast Office – listed as a ‘asset of community value was recently declined.
Inadequate on-site parking, a number of other supermarkets in the area, and Melksham Without Parish Council’s lack of support for the application, were some of the reasons given by Wiltshire Council for their decision.
However, the Whitley Community Hub has said that they are still moving forward with their plans for a community-run shop, and are preparing their bid for when the business is put on the market.
The Whitley Community Hub report, “The “asset of community value” application was declined largely because in the time we had available to prepare and submit it (less than a week) the parish council felt that we had not been able to demonstrate evidence that the shop could be viable as a business for the next five years.
“Although the decision was disappointing, this in no way impacts on our plans. Since the application was submitted, we have learned a huge amount that supports our view that this could be a very successful community-run shop.
“To move forwards with our business plans, we have formally established a steering group for the Whitley Community Hub, chaired by Nathan Hall and comprising Alison Candlin, John Lister, Dom Szanto, Duncan Whitby and Charlotte Yates. But we have more than 50 members of an active online group as well, who are feeding help and ideas into the process and we know that there is much enthusiasm for the project within both Whitley and Shaw.
“We held the first meeting of our steering group on 27th August, where we discussed the development of our business plan, the likely capital funding routes open to us and the options for “incorporation” as a community-focused entity. Next week we have a meeting with our Plunkett Foundation adviser to further develop these ideas.
“Our next steps are to undertake some further engagement with the whole community over the coming weeks in the form of a survey, to inform our business plan and understand what the villagers want to see in their shop, and we are very excited to start fleshing out ideas.
“We expect the building that was the Toast Office to be marketed shortly, and along with the commercial operators we know are interested, we are preparing to be able to respond to that with the intention of running a community venture from that site that will serve the village communities of Whitley and Shaw with a shop, Post Office, community space and café.
“We’re extremely interested in exploring options for collaborating with an investor, leasing the shop premises from someone wishing to purchase the entire building, or working jointly on a purchase offer to allow the Whitley Community Hub group to purchase the existing commercial premises. We are very open to discussions with anyone who might be looking for a partner or tenant.
“If anyone wishes to get in touch with the Whitley Community Hub email email@example.com or find us on FaceBook.”
It was announced in June that The Toast Office would not be re-opening, and that a planning application had been submitted to Wiltshire Council to change the existing use of the building from its current use to a residential building, creating two dwellings.
The planning application was refused by Wiltshire Council last month as the business had not been placed on the market first, before concluding that the site is not viable for ongoing commercial use.