Trust supermarket talks cause controversy

The North Harris Trust AGM saw sparks fly the Trust explained the Co-op had approached them in August.
The North Harris Trust AGM saw sparks fly the Trust explained the Co-op had approached them in August.

North Harris Trust have defended the decision not to tell the community about an approach from the Co-operative to open a store in East Tarbert.

At the Trust’s eleventh AGM on Monday night, tempers were frayed and voices raised as members of the community questioned why they were kept in the dark.

Hotelier John Murdo Morrison described the actions of the Trust as ‘sinful”, and predicted the opening of a Co-op store would be “the end of the road for every business in Tarbert.”

However Alistair MacLeod, North Harris Trust Development Manager, stressed: “It was initial contact, but not to the degree where we’ve agreed X, Y and Z.”

Mr MacLeod said the Co-op first made an approach by phone in August last year, and he had asked people “to keep the matter confidential at the moment - up to the point it was a definite possibility.”

He said local businesses would have been consulted on the matter after all 11 grazing share holders of the proposed site in Sunnyhill had made their feelings known, and before the project went as far as planning consent.

So far, Mr Macleod explained, he has talked to all but one of the shareholders, nine of whom are in favour of continuing the discussions.

However some present at the AGM continued to question how the Trust had handled the issue.

Meeting attendee Kenny Maclean, said: “I’m concerned that you have been talking to the Co-op for so long. An awful lot is happening behind closed doors. It’s not really transparent and honest.”

He continued: “I think everybody has a lack of confidence in the board’s deliberations in the matter.”

Mr MacLeod said the board had been informed of the approach from the Co-op at a meeting in September.

“I don’t accept that shops will necessarily close [if the Co-op were to open a store in Tarbert].” he said. “They [the Co-op] have obviously done their sums.”

Some at the meeting clearly had concerns about the impact on existing businesses a new store would have in the area, including local shop owners present. A letter was also read out on behalf of a pensioner, pleading with the Trust to consider the social impact such a move could have.

Anyone in favour of the Trust continuing talks with the supermarket chain was asked to raise their hand. No-one did. The decision was therefore taken to stop discussions with the Co-op until the community has been consulted.

Speaking to the Gazette after the AGM, Calum J Mackay, Trust Chairman, said the consultation would happen “as soon as possible”.

Mr MacLeod added that the approach from the Co-op was an opportunity for the community, and defended the actions of the Trust to date.

He said: “We have to talk to people who have an interest in bringing developments to North Harris.”

This was not the only issue raised at the public meeting, which was at times heated and resulted in a number of verbal clashes.

The Trust becoming a retailer of animal feed was another controversial subject on the night.

However Chairman, Mr MacKay, attempted to gain control of the room.

He said: “Why don’t we sit down and sort this out, it’s not too late yet.”