The Strange Tale of the Chemist Shop
In 1988 the Parish Council took the decision to sell the existing Village Hall (the old school) to help finance the new village hall that was being built nearby. The Council suggested outline planning permission should be sought for the hall to become a house; to be used for light industry; or even to become a development plot for up to three houses. There were problems, however, because the old school was sited on common land, within the conservation area, and it was agreed that the old part of the building (including the windows) must be preserved. Eventually it was advertised as 'Mulbarton Common: Former Village School in nearly ¼ acre. Outline Planning Permission for conversion to One Residential Dwelling. Offers invited in the region of £89,000' Eventually the hall was sold for commercial development.
There was no argument about the old school becoming a dental surgery (though some lament the changes to the north-facing window - seen in photo above). The cloakroom annexe was converted to an office and let to a financial advisor. But plans to build a new chemist shop on the site of temporary sheds in the old playground was a different matter..... There was huge opposition, both to a chemist shop (replacing the pharmacy at the doctors' surgery for all Mulbarton villagers) and to a commercial building on common land.
The first battle was over permission for an independent
pharmacy to replace the dispensary in the surgery. South Norfolk MP John MacGregor backed the
protest in 1991, when both he and other government ministers - including the
Prime Minister, John Major, were sent letters of protest and a petition (above).
'Villagers say they have everything to lose and nothing to gain by having to walk to a planned chemist shop on the site of the former school - but the pharmacists involved disagree....' (News Report, 19 April 1991)
Despite local opposition, work went ahead to build a shop next to what had become the dental surgery, but the owner was forced to stop work in May 1993 after protests from a newly formed Mulbarton Common Protection Group who had discovered that the shop was being built on common land. (above)
The April 1994 Annual Parish Meeting brought discussion and opposition to a head:
'Mr. Martin explained that the land will always be registered as Common. The old school premises were excluded. But the former school playground is included in the District Council's Management Scheme, and as managers it must oppose any development on the area it manages. For this reason it is proposing to remove a small peripheral area from the Scheme so that the Secretary of State for the Environment can consider an appeal that the chemist's proposed shop can be built there. Mr Martin called on villagers to defend the peripheries of the Common, or further development might be allowed. Some villagers were drawing up a petition, and a vote at the meeting supported motion that the former school playground should not be withdrawn from the SNDC Scheme of Management.' (News Report, April 1994)
The developers sought permission to build on the grounds that the land had been fenced off from the Common and surfaced as a playground in the 1950s. Villagers fought back by pointing out this 'enclosure' was for community use and safety - the shop development was purely commercial. The developers lost, and the owner was ordered to pull it down by 3rd May 1996. But further legal wrangling meant a half-built shop itself became a dangerous playground, so it was boarded up by the District Council. The demolition squad arrived in October 1996 (below).
But that was not the end of the Chemist Shop saga. Permission for a pharmacy still stood - and a tiny dispensing chemist was opened in what had once been the school toilets! There was limited stock - and no room for a queue (below).
Eventually, the financial adviser moved to other premises,
and the office became a chemist shop, with a range of health and beauty items
as well as a pharmacy. And there is plenty of space for parking - on what
continues to be classified as common land!