Retail park plan receives major boost
Plans to build a new retail park on the northern edge of Berwick have received a key boost from independent consultants.
Nexus Planning, commissioned by Northumberland County Council to provide a retail assessment, does not believe the plan would have a significant adverse impact on the town centre.
Berwick Corporation (Freemen) Trustees and TCD Estates are seeking planning permission for five retail units and two food and drink units at Loaning Meadows, south-west of the Morrisons store.
Aldi, Home Bargains and The Food Warehouse have signed pre-let agreements, with Costa Coffee and KFC also lined up.
Nexus, in its report, states: ‘With regard to the impact test, we do not believe that the grant of planning permission for the Loaning Meadows proposal would lead to a significant adverse impact in respect of existing, committed and planned public and private sector investment.
‘We believe that existing retailers in Berwick would generally be the subject of limited impacts and would likely continue to trade successfully.
‘We do not believe that Berwick’s vacancy rate is particularly problematic and the centre generally benefits from a strong comparison goods offer. In addition, much of the town’s convenience goods offer already occupies out of centre locations.’
John Francis, director of DPP consultants, which carried out a retail assessment on behalf of the applicants, said: “This categorically demonstrates that DPP has provided a robust assessment that should be afforded significant weight in support of the application.”
More than 80 objections have been lodged, the majority from local residents, but also including Berwick Chamber of Trade (BCT) which hopes to meet with the developer later this month.
BCT chairman John Haswell said: “We are clearly very concerned about the impact the new retail park will have on the town centre but we also acknowledge that change is inevitable and that the town centre already has significant problems.
“So our intention is not only to object to the planned development but also to lobby our county council to develop a new vision for Berwick town centre to
help make it a destination town centre fit for the 21st century. The success of Bridge Street is hopefully something that we can draw inspiration from.”
Mr Francis said: “The BCT state that, in contradiction to DPP’s retail assessment, the proposals will have a significant detrimental impact on the town centre by reference to reduced footfall, town centre closures and impact on visitors and tourists.
“However, this statement is not supported by deeper or professional analysis nor is a counter assessment provided. In our view the views expressed are based on little more than perceptions and anecdotal evidence. As such it is our view that it would be unfair to afford it weight against the detailed and extensive and fully considered retail assessment submitted in support of the application.
“With regard to reduced footfall, we are at a loss to understand why a scheme of the nature proposed would reduce footfall in the town centre. The anchor tenant of the proposed development, Aldi, already trades from an out-of-centre location a short distance from the proposed new store. Customers currently using the Aldi will, it is imagined, continue to use the new store in the same way they have used the old store should the proposals succeed, but there is nothing to suggest that this proposal will draw footfall from the town centre. This also applies to the other proposed retailers.”
“Other retailers expressing interest in the development are not currently represented in the town. The reason for their interest is that while they are interested in the potential of operating a new store in the town, the nature and profile of Berwick town centre, which is historic and traditional in the extreme, simply does not offer the space/profile of unit they require.
“With regard to Home Bargains, again it is unfair that BCT seeks to speak on its behalf, in the sense it categorically says it would close its existing store on Marygate in the event the development proceeds and a unit is taken up by the company. This could well be the case, but the key issue here as we see it is that the company appears to not regard its existing store as suitable for either its current operations nor the ambitions of the company in relation to type of trading operation it aspires to.”
He has also clarified that the proposed development will not include any other vehicular access roads other than the access provided off Loaning Meadows, at the new roundabout to be created. There will be no direct vehicular access points created between the proposals and any surrounding residential streets.
“The illustrative plan showing a line of possible future residential link road was shown indicatively in the instance that residential uses are brought forward in the future on the adjacent land,” he said. “This is not for approval and vehicular access will be strictly limited to Loaning Meadows.”
A decision on the application will be taken by Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee. It is not on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.