'Colossal beast' shopping mall in St Austell could damage trade in towns across county
A "huge shadow" will be cast over four Westcountry towns if a £100 million out-of-town retail development is built, according to business leaders.
Developers Mercian Developments Limited want to create a 100-acre site at Coyte Farm, around one-and-a-half miles away from St Austell.
When submitted to Cornwall Council for approval the plan will include a 110,000sq ft food store, 90,000sq ft of non-food retail, a hotel and restaurant. Supermarket Sainsbury's has already signed up.
Mercian said the site would benefit the town by attracting top national retailers who would not consider the town centre in any event. But owners of the White River Place shopping centre, Ellandi, and local business leaders are worried.
Morgan Garfield, partner at London-based Ellandi, investment managers in commercial property, said Newquay, Truro and Bodmin would also be affected.
He said: "It would be the biggest ever stand-alone retail development in the county. This is a colossal beast.
"Retailers in St Austell would see a 30% drop in profits – some would see as much as a 50% fall, particularly the smaller retailers. It will cast a huge shadow – especially over St Austell."
Tom French, chairman of St Austell Bay Chamber of Commerce and a town councillor, said with a cohesive approach new life could be breathed into the town centre in five years.
Mike Coles, chartered surveyor and managing director of Colvase Estates Ltd, which owns commercial buildings in the town, said: "We can and will have a successful town centre. We need to upgrade shop fronts, put paint on walls, make it more interesting."
Concerns over high car park charges deterring shoppers were also expressed. Mark Robinson, partner at Ellandi, said by Christmas he hoped to reduce charges at the centre's underground car park, which has around 500 spaces – in total the town has around a thousand.
He said the company was looking at introducing free wi-fi and was backing plans for a customer loyalty card scheme. Chris Witt, business consultant, is in charge of making the town a Business Improvement District (BID) similar to Truro, Falmouth, Newquay and Camborne.
BIDs generate funds to spend marketing towns and events. Mr Witt said: "We have to be pro-active and dynamic. We can't sit on our hands."
After yesterday's press conference Simon Hoare, spokesman for Mercian which is developing the new shopping centre, said it was not in the firm's interests to turn St Austell into a ghost town. "A vibrant town centre is in everyone's interests. Large national retailers – the sort shoppers want – will not open at White River Place or other units in the town centre because the units are simply not big enough. Modern, big stores want 25,000-50,000sq ft."
He said up to 72% of people in the St Austell area do their non-food shopping in places like Truro. "We're not some smash-and-grab company," he said. "We're talking about a £100 million investment with 650 construction jobs."