Trust in politicians has reached rock bottom in light of the past few years with integrity, judgement and motivations all questioned. Despite this, I have a great deal of faith in local politicians, who can appreciate the impact of local decisions. I have particular faith in many of you as new politicians (and old!) in a new administration not constrained by old ways of working. In any politician's career there comes a moment when they are challenged to do the right thing, to look at the big picture, the impact of future generations and question officer's recommendations. I believe this is such a moment your careers.
This morning you have the future of Ross on Wye in your hands. I really believe this decision is that important. Do we protect our beautiful town, protect our public realm from litter and anti-social behaviour, prioritise public health, support our small businesses, protect the highways and aspire for something better than yet another fast food outlet that has zero interest in our local community – I appreciate none of you live in the ward but if you took a walk round Ross Spur you would see the litter and state of the area (see attached) is a blight on Ross and Herefordshire along with the almost daily accidents or near accidents on the Labels roundabout – trying to get out of that roundabout particularly at peak times is a death trap and nigh on impossible given the 5 exits and fast approach traffic off the M50. This is before we move on to the recent press around the alleged culture at McDonalds which has seen young women coming out in their droves highlighting alleged sexual harassment and much worse such as the allegations involving Elizabeth Haigh who was 18 and a 6th form student.
In terms of material conditions there are multiple major concerns and you are not short of options:
- Highway safety (despite what any choice recordings show, I ask you all to come and spend a day observing the reality of the Labels roundabout). This should be enough on its own to throw this out.
- Noise dust and fumes is another material condition with the projections around proposed usage of McDonalds providing the evidence for what is already a heavily polluted roundabout. The route is a main artery for articulated lorries which are some of the most carcinogenic vehicles on the road. There is now much evidence around additional pollution of idling vehicles contributing to over 40,000 deaths a year.
- Impact on appearance of an area – it may be argued that there are already a number of fast food restaurants and therefore impact is limited, however the location, right on the border of an area of outstanding natural beauty, literally at the gateway to town, makes this no ordinary location with, if this goes ahead, Ross sealing its reputation as the fast food capital of the region. What a tragedy.
- Effect on wildlife and nature – this is no brainer. Take a look at the litter, which then gets mowed into a thousand pieces and tell me there is no significant effect on wildlife and nature.
- Economic impact – I’m amazed officers have reached the view they have. Towns across the country are struggling, Ross has some wonderful independent shops and eateries. Again, this is a no brainer. These independent stores are one of the reason people visit Ross but with a McDonalds this incentive to visit, and spend money that goes towards the local economy will be damaging. Expect more shops closing. The business rates gained from McDonalds will be a false economy in so many ways.
Collectively there is more than enough here to on balance reject this application. Aside from all this, I believe the following are also hugely important – they may not constitute material conditions but that is a failing of the current planning model and a lack of systemic thinking.
- Whilst some councils are banning fast food outlets near their school, do we want to be known as the place in the UK with a McDonalds potentially closest to a large secondary school? What a legacy and what a let-down for our youth. There are other outlets nearby you may ask, but this McDonalds position (400m from John Kyrle High School), that bit closer to the school and now accessible by a new pelican crossing meant to serve the new ‘green St Mary’s estate’. We all know the power of nudge behaviour and the size of the estate and families that will walk past this daily, genuinely saddens me – we all know the impact of highly saturated foods on the brain and learning. The proximity is different to the other outlets. If you don’t agree, why don’t we just give up and put McDonalds in the school field – its only 50m closer. Our NHS is on its knees, we all know the challenges around obesity and diabetes – do we really think this will help.
- The red herring of jobs no longer applies – there are now not enough jobs in the county that can be filled. There is literally no benefit to Ross on Wye or Herefordshire as a county.
- The Ross brand – post covid Ross has an opportunity to position itself as a healthy, outdoors adventure, green town, with indy shops. Adding yet another corporate, fast-food brand destroys this opportunity. Our wonderful town and country trail will now pass this fast-food chain and new green development, which has a wellbeing walk going right past the proposed development – this Orwellian double speak approach of a wellbeing walk right next to a Mcdonalds is madness.
Let’s remember McDonalds has zero interest in Ross, our children or our local economy or our lifestyles - in fact the more the town dies the more it will help McDonalds with fewer options available. You know that, because you are decent cllrs who won’t have the wool pulled over your eyes.
It’s time for a fresh start in Ross and the county, one where we aspire for better for our communities and our children.
Apologies for the length of email and no doubt typos but I hope you can flag this email with fellow committee members and tomorrow have the bravery, integrity and clarity to do the right thing. As corporate parents to all our children, I will keep the faith.
Warm wishes, Stu Emmerson