- Originally in Sherington there was a private shop called Virginia Stores that provided shop services to the parishioners of Sherington. It was a private enterprise run for the purposes of providing services at a profit. It carried on the business for a number of years until the owners decided to retire and the shop was closed in 2010. I believe the premises as well as well as their business, was their home. The shop was therefore terminated.
- This left the village without a shop. The Parish Council, as I understand it, did not want to get involved, so handed it over to a group of villagers who formed the original Shop Co Committee to determine which would be the best way to supply shop services. They eventually could not agree as to the best solution and handed the responsibility back to the Parish Council of the time.
- At that time, the Parish Council decided that there was a high level of support and need for a shop stores including a Post Office. The current village shop was created, and it is situated near the Village Hall on PC land. It was always considered to be of a temporary nature and there were plans from the Parish Council to build a new structure in the future. The current temporary shop was given permanent planning status in 2017. I am not aware at the time whether the Council considered setting up a community shop run by the villagers. If so, this never came to fruition as there was no one willing to become involved.
- The Parish Council let out the temporary premises to a couple who ran the shop for a short time and then sold the shop services to the present occupants who are running it. There was an original lease drawn up with Sherington Village Shop Ltd with the original tenants which was very sparse and not fit for purpose. This Lease lapsed when Sherington Village Shop Ltd folded. The present occupants have no formal lease at the present time but pay rent which gives them sitting tenants’ rights. This is something that the present Council will have to deal with.
- During this time, when the present occupants were in the temporary structure providing shop services, including post office facilities, the Council at the time decided to set up another Shop Co committee to investigate and develop plans for a permanent building. This Shop Co committee were appointed months after the publication of the Sherington Neighbourhood Plan, which had been passed by a majority of the villagers. One of the objectives under Community Facilities was to provide a village shop as part of a community hub in the heart of the village.
- The said Committee than decided to formulate plans with the help and expense of a local architect. The plans were to build a shell which would provide a shop, meeting place, and a café. It was intended to finance this project from monies supplied by a private benefactor to the tune of £100 thousand pounds and the rest being paid for by the Parish Council. This plan failed for the following reasons:-
- At no stage did the Council make a legally binding contract with the benefactors, whether it was by a deed of gift or a binding agreement stipulating the amount of the gift. It was a unilateral promise, with conditions that had to be met by the Council which was unenforceable. This was the basis of the financing of the project and was totally unsatisfactory. This promise was withdrawn thus leaving Shop Co without a large proportion of their funding.
- The cost of providing such a structure was worked out at approximately £150 thousand pounds. This amount was questioned as to its accuracy as it clearly did not include VAT. It further did not include the information as to who would be prepared to run it. It was clear that they would not be suggesting the present occupiers of the temporary shop which I will list later. In order to get the new building up and operating as a shop, in my opinion, the proposed tenant would have to furbish the shop, café and meeting place and obtain the necessary stock which would cost any prospective tenant in excess of £100 thousand pounds. In return, the tenants would expect an income of at least £35 thousand pounds per annum from his investment and hard work. In my opinion there is insufficient demand to provide such income.
- The said committee, Shop Co, advised the Council to put the plans in their original form, for planning permission. They felt the money could be raised but were vague about how. A resolution was put to the Council, with a counter resolution that if the first resolution was defeated, then Shop Co would be dissolved. By 4-3 majority the resolution was defeated, and Shop Co was disbanded.
- The problems that the Council were now facing with the temporary shop were more apparent:-
- The post office facility was withdrawn on the pretext that the present occupiers did not have a formal lease, which was a necessary requirement. When asked the question if a new lease were agreed and signed, would the franchise be restored to the present occupiers, the answer was NO. Was clear there were other insurmountable problems preventing them having a franchise with the Post Office. In My opinion, any supplier of shop services should have a post office.
- The demand for the shop services have declined quite alarmingly due to several factors. Village as a whole has no faith in these services and have voted with their feet by not shopping there. Demand for a local shop should have increased due to two lockdowns due to the Covid pandemic. It has not been helped that the shop had its electricity supply disconnected for a period of two months and they were operating a limited service from the car park. It was also investigated by the Environmental Health Department for several issues including their licence to sell liquor.
- The Parish Council wish to meet the village desire to have a shop service that they could trust and rely upon. The Council felt that the present situation was not meeting the needs of the village. A number of villagers held the views that The White Hart public house would provide an ideal site for a shop. The Parish Council realise that this idea has many benefits including meeting the provisions of the Neighbourhood Plan. The Plan itself stated. That the shop and the pub are facilities that should be maintained and protected by the Parish Council. Discussions with the owner and manager of the. White Hart confirmed that they were willing to develop ad run a shop provided there would be some financial assistance for the initial conversion work. Thereafter the White Hart management would be Responsible for all ongoing costs and therefore the Council would not need to make any further contributions. The responsibility for all ongoing costs for Sherington Parish Council would cease. The White Hart project would include a paper franchise, a post office and the selling of local and general produce. It further answers the requirements of the Neighbourhood Plan to have a place to service food and hot drinks and act as a meeting place i.e. The White Hart Pub.
- On 3rd March 2021, a motion was passed whereby the Parish Council supported the conversion of the old barn at the White Hart public house into a village shop. Part of the support would be financial but must be provided within the statutory framework governing Parish Councils. A committee was appointed to obtain an objective to provide a shop service which the village would accept.
- Full transparency is the order of the day and a notice has been put up asking for bids to supply such services from any organisation or individual who feels they could meet the criteria set down in the said notice. Fourteen days have been set down as the period required to meet such expressions of interest.
- The Council will then meet and decide which one is best suited to meet the criteria.
- The Parish Council will be providing some monies to get this project started. The question will be asked how the monies will be paid because under Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 which prevents the Council granting money to an individual for a project which would give that individual a profit. The Council, however, can contract out essential services to an individual. It is therefore proposed that the Council under a service contract with the White Hart will pay £15 thousand pounds over a 3-year period for them to provide shop services. In my opinion this has the backing and approval of the village.
NB can the PC give S137 money to an Ltd company?