VILLAGERS have been urged to “work with the enemy” after a council chairman conceded that stopping Morrisons from moving into Downley was unlikely.
Residents have rallied to try and prevent the supermarket giant from opening an M Local store in the Downley Donkey pub – which was boarded up last night following its closure last week.
But Downley Parish Council chairman Cllr Barry Gay told campaigners they are almost powerless from preventing the change, so working with the retailer to ensure the best result for the village was the best step.
He said: “It has gone on for quite some time behind the scenes, we knew nothing about it and are coming in very late on the scene – we are almost powerless and most talk on the assumption it is going to go through.
“We must work with our enemy, if you like, to try to get them to work with the village for the best outcome possible.”
The parish council announced it would be objecting to Morrisons’ planning application to make alterations to the Donkey building – including a small rear extension and instillation of an ATM.
Cllr Paul Turner, Downley’s representative on Wycombe District Council, added he had objected to the retailer’s licensing application and had called in the planning application to WDC’s Planning Committee.
But residents were warned that as the building alterations are “minimal” and the former pub already had a licence to sell alcohol, both avenues for refusal were unlikely to succeed.
Planning permission is not required to change the use of a pub into a retail unit.
The parish council made a late bid to have it registered as a Community Asset last week but the result of that is still pending.
Cllr Gay revealed he had been in direct discussions with high-level Morrisons’ representatives about their proposals and said they had listened to his suggestions that he had passed on from villagers.
These included shortening the opening times, delivery options and even installing a coffee shop within the store – but Cllr Gay was quick to point out nothing had been agreed and they were only ideas at this stage.
A resident at Tuesday’s parish council meeting called the ideas “cosmetic” and did not address the major problems the store could bring – such as traffic congestion and the effect on other Downley shops.
Another asked for Morrisons to reveal why they had targeted Downley, given it already had a Tesco and independent shops.
Cllr Gay said he understood the concerns of residents and said the parish would do all it could but again added it was “on the back foot” and warned it would be difficult to stop the project at this stage.