No debate about supermarket or future of charity shop despite show of support by local people.

NORTH Devon Council has come under fire from the organiser of a petition designed to spark debate about the future of the SMR Phoenix Re-use shop in the centre of South Molton.

Shop employee Melanie Shiner said she felt her 2,000-signature document was met with a ‘conspiracy of silence’ when she presented it to the council at the annual meeting on Wednesday night.

After addressing the council she said she expected a fair and open discussion to ensue.

“Instead, I was met with a deathly hush and then told by the chairperson to go back to the public gallery,” she said

“North Devon Council’s democratic services clearly states that a petition that has more than 1,000 signatures triggers a full debate.”

The petition, which urges the authority to help safeguard the shop’s future and opposes plans to build a Tesco supermarket in the Central Car Park area of the town, contains 2,036 valid signatures from residents from all parts of North Devon, including 710 names from South Molton.

Nearly 350 signatures were discounted from people with addresses outside the district council area.

The council said it was unable to debate the supermarket issue as it was a planning matter and that the future of the re-use shop could only be considered by the executive committee.

Ms Shiner said: “They have wriggled out of discussing both elements of the petition and a debate did not happen. They have shrouded both elements in an impenetrable legal veil and cheated all those people that signed the petition out of a fair and open discussion.”

She said that many of the handouts she’d printed for council members at her own expense were left uncollected on the front bench of the council chamber.

“They were returned to me and I gave them out to petitioners who wanted to know how I had got on at the meeting; at least they were not wasted. Obviously they are all dismayed that the petition has not been openly debated by the full council. “The council should operate transparently. Their convenient shroud of ‘legal’ censorship has triumphed over democracy.

“I keep praying that a colony of bats will take up residence in SMR Phoenix because then the building would be protected from demolition. What kind of crazy world do we live in when bats afford better protection than people’s lives and jobs?”

This week the district council filed three planning applications to pave the way for regeneration of the Central Car Park area.

The separate applications seek permission to demolish the South Molton Recycle Centre and garage stores; the Old Pig Shed; and the workshop and store on land it owns in Southley Road.

A consultation period ends on April 20.