How can we improve Malton's Town Centre?  20th July 2008


Everybody knows that Malton Town Centre is in difficulty. These difficulties have been compounded by the Credit Crunch and the actions of Ryedale District Council in imposing extortionate car park charges.


As the FitzWilliam Estate own 75% of the town centre shops, it should be no surprise if they want to do something about this. In August last year, the estate applied for planning permission to develop the Cattle Market Area. The intention, as I understand, was to build a 16,000 sq. ft. trolley style food hall, together with other units of sizes suited to some of the more upmarket stores, together with underground car parking. They were prepared to invest £20M in the scheme. The purpose was to attract shoppers into the town centre, for the benefit of all town centre shops, and so protect their investment in these. This was understandably opposed by the cattle market lobby. However, both the Estate and the Cattle Market decided to try and avoid conflict by working together for the relocation of the cattle market to the Showfield. 


All seemed to be going well until March 5th, when a Council Committee was asked to consider a consultants’ report (the WPS report) on a “Malton Town Centre Strategy”. This contained a recommendation for the building of a new 25,000 – 35,000 sq. ft. superstore on Wentworth Street Car Park, which would have made the FitzWilliam proposals unsustainable, would have taken up an area used by the cattle market for their cattle wagons, and as it would have included a free car park for superstore customers, would have further weakened town centre shops.


The WPS report is short for a consultants’ report. It took no account of the impact of its recommendations on the highway network. Government guidance requires all proposals for large stores to be supported by an assessment of the impact of such proposals on the vitality and viability of the existing shopping centre, and one would normally expect a report of this kind to have a second volume containing tables, calculations and other data showing how the consultants had reached their conclusions. The WPS report contains no such second volume


Now it is possible that the Council’s officers and consultants know more about how to maintain the vitality and viability of Malton Town Centre than the Estate, which has a long term investment and has committed £20M of their own money to protect it. However, it is impossible to form an independent view, unless one has the data against which both the WPS recommendations and the Estate’s proposals can be compared, and the opportunity to debate this issue. I  might be willing to accept the Council’s views, if only the public could be given the opportunity to verify the consultants’ reasoning. However, we are not being given the chance to do this.


A “steering group” was set up, and consultees were invited to meetings. The consultees called for WPS’ technical data, but none was provided. The Council’s chief executive advised that the Estate’s application could be considered by the Steering Group provided it was treated as a strategic planning option: however, the Steering Group and their consultees were forbidden to discuss it, and so had no opportunity to compare it with the WPS recommendations. The Steering Group were not even asked to apply the Government’s own criteria: “what will be the impact of the WPS proposals on the vitality and viability of the existing town centre?” We were only allowed to discuss the options recommended for consideration by WPS. So it should be no surprise that the consultees did not welcome the WPS recommendations. This did not please the Council’s establishment,who at one time seemed about to wind up the steering group without getting their views on the  final report prepared for the Steering Group (although it is now understood that there will still be some more Steering Group meetings)


As the council could not get the answer it wanted from the Steering Group’s consultees, who represent the businesses and Town councils of Malton and Norton, a wider consultation has been ordered, and a questionnaire circulated to Ryedale’s parishes outside the two towns. Unsurprisingly, the questionnaire is prefaced with a brief statement which tells us much about the WPS Report and absolutely nothing about the FitzWilliam alternative.


It would seem that Ryedale’s political establishment may have decided to raise money by the sale of Wentworth Street Car Park, without regard to the impact of the resulting development on the vitality and viability on the exisiting town centre. This is in spite of the fact that last year the Council’s capital programme was underspent by £2.5M.

It is an asset stripping exercise.  


While this farce goes on, there is a growing risk that the Estate could lose patience with the Council and either drop their proposals altogether (in which case Malton will have lost £20M of new investment) or settle for a scheme which would be less likely to enhance the viability and vitality of the existing town centre.


In the past the Estate has been blamed for the decline of Malton’s shops. Now it would appear that, by its actions, Ryedale District Council has made itself Malton’s worst enemy.



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