Discount supermarket Aldi will be allowed to bulldoze a shopping centre in Milton Keynes without there being a final agreement on where an historic mural will eventually go.
Council officers understand that the historic bicycle mural on the wall of the derelict and empty local centre in Stantonbury is close to getting listed status but there is disagreement on what will happen to it.
Aldi is proposing that the wall could be laid flat while objectors want it to be placed upright in a nearby location. But Aldi says that option would cost £150,000 and could stop the new supermarket dead in its tracks.
Conservative group leader Cllr Alex Walker (Stantonbury) urged his colleagues at Thursday’s Development Control Committee not to lose the opportunity to redevelop the area. He said the empty shops attracted anti social behaviour, including a fire earlier this year.
“Stantonbury is one of the most deprived wards in Milton Keynes,” he said. “Don’t leave Stantonbury behind. I have put my faith in Aldi, the investment is much needed and very urgent.”
Aldi’s MK-area property director Dan Pannell said he viewed the future of the mural as important, but added: “We do not consider the mural’s importance should be overstated.”
He said the company had made an extra financial commitment to save it but going further would put the project at risk.
“We may have to withdraw interest, our commitment is not without limits. We have gone above and beyond,” he warned the committee.
“It is a piece of art with limited heritage value. This is a derelict neighbourhood centre; I urge you not to overburden Aldi with commitments.”
But objectors urged the committee to defer the application until a solution was reached.
Cllr Hannah Minns (Lab, Stantonbury) said: “The individual tiles of the mural are fragile. There is no guarantee it will survive. It is part of our living history. It is a symbolic thing.”
David Stabler, the founder of the Public Arts Trust said: “Please defer the application, you have nothing to lose.”
Tracy Darke, MK Council’s director of growth, economy, and culture said the issue of the mural had been “taxing” and coming up with a solution has been quite difficult. She said officers would like to keep future options open.
“There is a strong chance that the mural could be listed. If it is listed moving it will need listed building consent.”
She added that a planning obligation on another site could provide £90,000 towards the re-erection of the mural to another site, which the Parks Trust has identified nearby.
“But he haven’t secured it yet,” she added. “We are doing all we can to secure the mural and we are supportive of Aldi. We want to keep our options open.”
Cllr Martin Petchey (Lab, Stantonbury) said he was worried that there is a chance that the mural tiles would be left in storage to decay and be lost. He called for no demolition to take place until the matter was resolved.
Councillors voted by seven votes to three, with one abstention, not to stop the redevelopment work until a new site for the mural had been secured. Aldi had not been prepared to have that as a condition.
Cllr Andrew Geary (Cons, Newport Pagnell North & Hanslope) said: “We have to be seen to be reasonable. The applicant and the council are working together to secure the mural, if that happens, I am happy.”
But he said he wanted the issue to come back to the committee at the first sign of any pitfalls.
Tracy Darke said the council would use its “best endeavours to find a solution. There are options and we will do what we can to resolve this.”
The committee voted by 10 votes, with one abstention, to approve the Aldi application.