THE future of a village shop near Chard is in the balance after plans to relocate it to a former public house were refused by councillors.

Plans were put forward to allow Winsham’s village shop and post office to reallocate into what was The George pub on Back Street, allowing it to open a cafe on the ground floor.

Dozens of shop supporters sporting blue rosettes turned out to a meeting in Chard on Wednesday evening (February 20) where the plans were debated.

But they left disappointed after South Somerset District Council refused the move on the grounds of highway safety.

The shop currently has 40 volunteers involved from its base across the road from The George, but its current lease ends in September.

A large number of villagers addressed the council’s area west committee on Wednesday, with many being in favour of the move.

Andrew Simkins, chairman of Winsham Parish Council, said: “The village shop has been the beating heart of Winsham since 1851. It has always adapted to changing needs and since 2002 it has been a community shop.

“It is a barometer for local needs. We would be significantly worse off without it. It is the glue which holds us together.”

Stephen Miller said there was no evidence to suggest that relocating the shop would lead to more traffic through the village.

He said: “What would change if the shop were in The George is there would be need to wheel fully loaded trolley crates across the B3162 during deliveries.”

Sally Lines, chief executive of the Road Safety Trust, added: “Rather than killing one of the village’s heartbeats based on speculative concerns, we should be looking at how we can use traffic calming measures to address those concerns.”

Relocating to The George even attracted the personal support of the Bishop of Taunton, the Right Reverend Ruth Worsley – but not all villagers agreed the move was a good idea.

Chris Little said: “While I support the continuance of the shop, The George is the wrong location.

“It’s a business venture which, to be successful, may draw heavier traffic to the area.

“It’s a ‘shot in the dark’ business venture, with no survey or research done to show that bigger is better, or whether they need a cafe.”

Jo Lawrence said the move would create “a road safety time bomb” in light of the already heavy traffic using the five-way junction near the George.

She said: “Last Thursday [February 14], I counted the number of vehicles using the five roads converging on the George. 143 vehicles used it in an hour – or one every 25 seconds. This is hardly the quiet location which the applicant contends.”

Somerset County Council, which is responsible for highway matters, had raised no concerns about the proposal.

However, the district council’s own highways expert had objected, declaring the changes to be “unacceptable” following an official site visit.

John Chant said putting planters outside the George would make no difference to visibility and would not persuade motorists to slow down.

He said: “There is zero visibility from the north if a child steps out from the George.”

Jan Little accused the shop’s current supporters of being “relentless and verging on intimidating”, claiming they had put pressure on residents to support the proposals.

She added: “It doesn’t matter how many people create placards or rosettes, it doesn’t make it right. There are safer and more sustainable locations within the village.” 

Jane Down, who runs The Bell Inn in the village, argued a new cafe could take away her customers and lead to the pub closing.

She said: “We do not need another cafe in Winsham. We have good days and we have bad days. If nobody comes into our cafe, I still have to pay people.

“If you take away my morning trade, there’s not much point opening in the evening.”

Councillor Sue Osborne – whose Windwhistle ward includes Winsham – spoke in favour of the plans, citing the value that local shops brought to villages.

She said: “Villages which have lost their shop are diminished – they lose their heart as people go elsewhere.”

Councillor Linda Vijeh warned that the proposal threatened to split the village, adding: “If we’re not careful, we can allow fear to overtake common sense.”

But other councillors were less keen, citing the complexity of the nearby junction and the lack of visibility.

Councillor Ric Pallister said: “There isn’t a member sitting around this table who wouldn’t back the retention of the shop 100 per cent.

“We cannot allow emotion to rule on planning. I think it’s a lovely building, I think it’s exciting – but it’s the wrong location. I would love to work with the community to find a better location.”

Councillor Dave Bulmer added: “I believe, quite frankly, that we’ve got a duty of care to the public. My heart tells me that we should support the shop, but my head tells me totally the opposite.

“There is a need for this facility in the village. I would like to find solutions, but we don’t have those on the table this evening.”

The committee voted to refuse the plans by a margin of eight votes to five.