THE auction of a former supermarket in the centre of Shaftesbury could end in “tragedy” if the wrong buyer gets hold of the site, local figures fear.

The building on Bell Street that had once been a Co-operative store, a Budgens and a Somerfield can now be viewed on the Clive Emson Land and Property Auctioneers website - with a guide price of more than £500,000.

Read: ‘Landmark’ shop site up for sale for £580k

Some fear the “nightmare” scenario of a block of flats, which the town’s mayor says residents would oppose, while others insist whatever comes next must provide jobs.

'A brilliant and robust business plan'

The property has remained unused since its final supermarket closure in 2017, and since then potential buyers had previously expressed interest in securing the premises, including a steering group in collaboration with the town council called Project Belle.

This business scheme, previously led by Shaftesbury Civic Society’s Jackie Upton King, had to be retracted, under the assumption other buyers had come forward to secure the building.

“For Project Belle we submitted a brilliant and robust business plan, and it is hugely disappointing that we were kept waiting. We can only assume they wanted to get more money as they kept us hanging on, and we just assumed someone else had offered more,” explained Jackie.

Town councillor Piers Brown, who was also a member of Project Belle, said a bid of around £500,000 had been put forward, with the hope of turning the vacant building into a mixture of community facilities.

This included a corner shop-style supermarket, enterprise hub, gym, retail units and around ten affordable flats.

After around a year of waiting however, the group had to withdraw its offer, as the money was needed for other projects and opportunities.

Jackie added: “We were really surprised to hear about the auction, nobody had the courtesy to inform us this was happening. Whatever happens now, it needs to have a real community focus - anything else would be a tragedy for Shaftesbury.”

When the site on Bell Street was Budgens, 2016 - Picture from Google Street View

When the site on Bell Street was Budgens, 2016 - Picture from Google Street View

Future ideas?

Jackie said: “I think it would be absolutely marvellous as some form of community-let project so the whole community could be involved with what happened there.

“My worst nightmare would be a block of flats.”

When asked if the council would reconsider relaunching Project Belle and its business plan for the upcoming auction, Cllr Brown said the authority was not given enough notice or time, and other significant council-led projects are currently underway in the town, including plans for two new car parks and an all-weather 3G football pitch.

Read: Pitch and parking plans begin to take shape - despite more financial concerns

He added that the bid “would need to be reworked” as facilities that were once needed in the town and resident priorities have changed.

“[The agents] were always welcome to contact us and it’s disappointing we weren’t aware [about the auction],” Cllr Brown added.

The east ward councillor would like to see the site retained for employment use, adding: “In the middle of town, in that retail area, we’re going to need as many employment opportunities as possible.”

Marks and Spencer had no interest

Marks and Spencer sign

Marks and Spencer sign

Despite previous speculation in the media that Marks and Spencer was rumoured to be a contender for the site back in 2017, the chain has told the Journal that M&S Food had not expressed an interest in setting up in the town.

This was echoed by Dorset councillor for Shaftesbury Derek Beer, who said it was “nonsense” that the then North Dorset District Council had turned this shop opportunity away.

Cllr Beer added he was “pleased” albeit “surprised” about the auction announcement, as he thought the site had already been sold.

He added: “What it really needs, more than anything else, is a convenience store for the people who live in the west of the town. This would be really useful.”

Houses and flats would be 'strongly opposed'

As a resident of Bell Street, mayor of Shaftesbury Andy Hollingshead said: “This is an important site and I’m sure the new owners are going to want to consider commercial or retail use for it .

“I do believe local residents and the town would welcome that. Other ideas which have been popular are a gym, offices or some form of hotel accommodation. I think any proposal to build houses or flats would be strongly opposed.”

(L - R) Shaftesbury councillor Piers Brown, Dorset councillor for Shaftesbury Derek Beer and mayor of Shaftesbury Andy Hollingshead

(L - R) Shaftesbury councillor Piers Brown, Dorset councillor for Shaftesbury Derek Beer and mayor of Shaftesbury Andy Hollingshead

The guide price for this space, an indication of the minimum sum the seller is expecting, is between £580,000 and £620,000.

The online auction will be taking place on February 10.

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