A CITY councillor has warned that Worcester must grow – or risk losing county town status to Redditch.
Councillor Roger Knight made the comment at St Peter’s Parish Council, the first community group to be involved in the discussion about the future of Worcester following the scrapping of the South Worcestershire Joint Core Strategy – the previous government’s housing targets for the region.
Coun Knight and Coun David Tibbutt were at the meeting to hear how residents wanted to see the city grow over the next 20 or 30 years as part of what has been termed ‘Future Worcester’.
Coun Knight said: “If people do not want to live, play and shop in Worcester then they will go elsewhere. Redditch could end up being the county town.”
Redditch is the second biggest town in Worcestershire, with 74,300 people compared to Worcester’s 94,700.
But the leader of Redditch Borough Council Carole Gandy doesn’t think there is any chance of Redditch ever being as large as Worcester.
She said: “It is highly unlikely. We are right on the edge of the county and we will always look to attract as many businesses as possible, but our boundaries are so compact that even if we wanted to expand, we would not be able to.”
Coun Tibbutt said there was not only competition from other county towns, but also from places such as Cheltenham and Solihull, which are attracting more shops and consequently more visitors. He said retail was an important indicator of a city’s growth or decline.
“There are many places very similar to Worcester which have lost their Marks & Spencer. We do not want to do that,” he said.
Coun Knight said Solihull already had one well-known department store.
“Ideally we would like to see a John Lewis in Worcester, but we’re not going to get one with our population,” he said.
The councillors said new homes were needed – but a careful decision was needed about where the homes would go to avoid Worcester becoming a commuter town.
Like Redditch, Worcester has little space within its boundary to expand and any growth would have to encroach into the Wychavon or Malvern Hills districts.
Paul Middlebrough, leader of Wychavon District Council, said: “We hope those residents living in the rural areas around Worcester are given the opportunity to comment and influence whatever findings emerge.”
Malvern Hills leader Phil Grove said: “I would encourage our local communities to also make their views heard in this consultation.”
St Peter’s Parish Council will hold a public meeting about Worcester’s growth. The date and time are yet to be confirmed.