Retail park plan gets the green light
A new retail park has been given the go-ahead, despite a plea from traders to '˜not put the final nail in the coffin' of Berwick town centre.
Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee approved the controversial application for another out-of-town development by 11 votes to two at its meeting on Tuesday evening.
The scheme at Loaning Meadows, on a greenfield site south-west of the Morrisons store, will feature five retail units and two food and drink units.
Aldi, Home Bargains and The Food Warehouse, part of the Iceland Group, have signed pre-let agreements, with Costa Coffee and KFC also lined up.
The Aldi unit will replace the current store on North Road, while Food Warehouse intends to retain its existing Iceland store in the town centre. The meeting heard that Home Bargains has also indicated it will keep its town-centre shop.
A number of objections had been raised, including over flooding and road safety, but the committee members were mainly concerned about ‘the heart and livelihood of Berwick town centre’, as one opponent put it.
The application had been recommended for approval, as it was concluded that the proposals would not have a ‘significant adverse impact’ on the vitality or viability of the town centre.
Moving approval, Coun Trevor Thorne said it was a difficult decision because Berwick town centre ‘is definitely struggling’, but that the area needs economic investment and jobs.
“There are one or two shining lights in Berwick, but on the whole I would say the sky is very black,” he added.
Seconding the motion, Coun Gordon Castle said that Berwick seemed to have ‘had a worse deal as a result of out-of-town developments’, but that there were no planning reasons to refuse the new retail park.
Coun Bernard Pidcock, who voted against the bid, said: “It’s all very dark and gloomy in Berwick at the moment, according to the proposer, and this is not going to help at all.
“I am loath to be in a position where I can say that I’m party to turning Berwick into a ghost town.”
But Coun Barry Flux was far more positive, saying: “This is investment for Berwick. It’s jobs and business rates, it’s by the A1 so you might get people coming from the wider north Northumberland area.”
And Coun Guy Renner-Thompson was also in favour of the development, claiming that it will enhance Berwick by drawing in people, who will then also visit the town centre.
He added that many of the town centre’s issues were entirely unrelated to this application, for example, the parking problems.
Earlier, the meeting had heard objections from Stephen Scott, secretary of the Berwick Chamber of trade, resident Marjorie Noble and the county councillor for Berwick North, Catherine Seymour.
But the applicant’s planning consultant, John Francis, highlighted the economic boost the scheme would provide and the fact that the studies had concluded the impact on the town centre would be ‘minor and acceptable’, while describing other objections as ‘fictitious or unable to be substantiated’.
Berwick Town Council did not object, but wanted to be involved in decisions on some of the mitigation measures linked to the approval, such as the £40,000 contribution toward town-centre improvements.
There will also be a restriction placed on the existing unit occupied by Aldi on North Road so that it can only be for non-retail use.