Retail park plan faces opposition

Berwick Chamber of Trade has voiced strong objections to a proposed retail park on the northern outskirts of the town.

Friday, 20th April 2018, 12:00 pm
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It fears the development would have a significant detrimental impact on the town centre, resulting in reduced footfall and more empty shops.

Berwick Corporation (Freemen) Trustees and TCD Estates have lodged the application to develop a six-acre greenfield site at Loaning Meadows, south-west of the current Morrisons store.

Five retail units are proposed with Aldi, Home Bargains and The Food Warehouse having signed pre-let agreements. A Costa Coffee and KFC restaurant/drive thru are also proposed.

Stephen Scott, Chamber of Trade secretary, has written to the Freemen outlining its concerns.

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He said: “We believe that this development will have a significant detrimental impact on the town centre.

“This impact will manifest itself by reduced footfall in the town centre as the development will encourage more local shoppers to visit the new out-of-town development. This will have a knock-on effect of more businesses closing and more empty shops appearing.

“The town centre and, in particular, Marygate already has a significant number of empty units. This development will exaccerbate the problem and, as a result, will make Marygate unattractive to visitors and tourists with a subsequent negative impact on the local economy.”

The Chamber of Trade also challenges the applicants’ retail assessment that Home Bargains and the Iceland-owned Food Warehouse will keep their town centre stores.

“We challenge this statement and we would expect the potential closure of those stores on Marygate if the application is approved,” said Mr Scott. “Filling these sites we believe will be a near impossible task in the retail landscape of the future for a market town.”

Mr Scott added: “We understand that you are still seeking interest in two of the units, but where you have firm interest those proposed retailers are not offering any diversification at all. Just more of the same but on a bigger scale.”

Instead, the traders believe the land would be better suited to housing.

“We wish the economy of Berwick to grow, but we don’t feel that this planned development is the right solution,” Mr Scott continues.

The application has also attracted numerous objections from local residents, most notably in The Grange, who fear a proposed link road to the retail park would create a ‘rat run’ that would cause safety and anti-social behaviour problems.

The proposed development would provide a total of 6,118m2 of A1 retail floorspace across five retail units, all on a single trading floor, and a total of 396m2 of food and drink floorspace split across two units. The application also includes provision for nearly 400 parking spaces.

It is estimated the development will result in a total increase in retail turnover of £28.65milllion at the design year of 2023.

Of this, £14.8million will be convenience goods sales brought about through the increase in floorspace associated with the replacement Aldi store, The Food Warehouse and part of the floorspace within the proposed Home Bargains store. The remaining £13.85million would be made up from comparison goods sales.

It is envisaged the Aldi unit would replace the current store on North Road but Home Bargains and The Food Warehouse, part of the Iceland group, would retain their existing town centre shops.

The application reports that the existing Aldi store no longer meets its operational requirements in terms of its scale, layout and car parking provision. The new unit would be 61 per cent larger. An alternative use or development on the Aldi site would be sought under a separate planning application.

Whilst part of the Iceland group, The Food Warehouse is a separate retailer providing a different and complementary offer to Iceland high street stores. Although there remains a focus on frozen foods, the store acts more as a discount convenience goods store.

The application reports that significant trade is currently lost to distant shopping centres in Newcastle/Gateshead and Edinburgh.

In a retail statement accompanying the application, Jonathan Burns of DPP Planning, reports: ‘The availability of sites for development is limited within and on the edge of the town centre owing to the historic environment and the heritage assets within the town. Whilst the historic nature of the town centre forms an important part of its attraction, it does act as a barrier to significant expansion or the ability for comprehensive redevelopment to deliver modern larger floorplate retail units within or on the edge of the centre.

‘Taking this into account it is unsurprising that the sequential assessment was unable to identify any available sites of a suitable size to accommodate the proposed development. Whilst there are a number of smaller sites which could accommodate development in the future, these are of such a small scale that they could not accommodate the proposed development, and in most instances, would even be too small to accommodate the smallest proposed retail unit. Likewise, no suitable and available sites outside that are well connected but outside of the town centre could be identified. As such, the application proposals pass the sequential test.

‘Whilst not a requirement of the application proposals, it is clear that there is sufficient available expenditure to support the proposed development and the existing retail development within the town. The assessment clearly highlights a deficiency in the retail offer within Berwick and the wider area resulting in a significant loss of expenditure further afield and over reliance of special forms of trading to meet resident’s comparison goods shopping needs.

‘The proposed development will significantly increase the convenience and comparison goods offer within the town, helping to clawback retail expenditure from other retail destinations.

‘The impact assessment highlights that Berwick-upon-Tweed is a vital and viable town centre with the recent health check of the centre highlighting a number of a positive signs in relation to the key health check performance indicators with reduced vacancy rates and a number of significant investments being made in recent years.

‘The proposed development will complement the offer of the town centre and will instead predominantly compete with similar out-of-centre retail destinations. The type of retail units proposed, with a number of named retailers already having agreed to pre-lets of the floorspace, means that the level of impact on the town centre will be limited.

‘The assessment clearly highlights that whilst some trade will be drawn from the town centre to the development, this will be limited and will not amount to a significant adverse impact with the town centre clearly being resilient to change.

‘In summary, the application proposals will deliver a significant benefit in terms of enhanced consumer choice, the attraction of new retailers to the town and county and the retention of a greater proportion of retail expenditure locally.’

A retail development was previously approved on the site with a similar vehicular access arrangement.