Coyte Farm: Retail development is needed to save this depressing town
ST AUSTELL town centre is a depressing place, full of phone shops, cheap shops and down-market shops.
White River Place is a cold, uninviting, uninspired environment which I loathe visiting.
Access to the only toilets in the town centre is via a slope that I find too difficult to negotiate; neither can I easily get from the car park to Fore Street for the same reason.
I prefer to take the bus to Truro, where I have a wonderful choice of shops and facilities, all on one level.
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The choice is far greater than choosing between either going to the 99p Stores or really splashing out and going to Poundland.
The proposed development at Coyte Farm will not be responsible for the death of St Austell town centre – it is currently in the process of committing suicide, a task which will be completed long before Coyte Farm ever is.
I speak as a former chairman of the chamber of commerce in Helston, at the time when Trago Mills was attempting to open in the town centre.
The chamber (much against my own wishes) and the council all opposed Trago, who were forced to close and move away.
Helston had a thriving town centre in the Seventies – today, sadly, it looks a lot like St Austell.
The Coyte Farm development is vital to the sustainable future of St Austell. Without it, the town centre will die of boredom; with it, shoppers will visit from a wide area and, more importantly, local residents might be more inclined to spend money in their own town, thereby securing jobs.
Who knows – even tourists might be encouraged into the town centre with the lure of Marks & Spencer.
St Austell needs the development at Coyte Farm in order to safeguard its own future.
ON December 16, St Austell Town Council was asked to revisit a decision it made in December 2012 to oppose the development of Coyte Farm. The mood was edgy as a number of councillors questioned the reason they were being asked to vote again.
However, in the past 12 months, much has changed. An election has given nine new councillors; the public have become more informed and have had more opportunity to voice their opinions; the plan has been developed and modified in response to the concerns raised, and Marks & Spencer has declared it will come to Coyte Farm but nowhere else in town.
By March, it has been declared, Coyte Farm will be 80 per cent pre-let; before the first turf is cut.
St Austell is the largest town in Cornwall. In the 2011 census the population was 22,658, whereas Truro's population was 20,920. Despite this Truro currently has 60 per cent more non-food shopping space than St Austell.
Over the past ten years, the area of St Austell has seen population growth of 13 per cent, which is much greater than the average growth in Cornwall of 7 per cent.
A total of £100 million of St Austell's spend is lost to the area, as 63 per cent of residents head to Truro and Plymouth.
No calculation has been made to show the amount lost to online shopping, which nationally represents 10 per cent of all retail. Both these figures are set to grow.
Turning the tide on what has become an unstoppable tidal wave of changing retail habits is practically impossible.
In St Austell it was recognised more than 15 years ago, before the arrival of superfast broadband and internet shopping, that redevelopment of the town centre was a necessary step.
Unfortunately, by the time White River Place opened four years ago it was already outdated in terms of the demands of modern retail and it's still far from fully occupied after four years of opening.
Reports of the impact figures for Coyte Farm vary so widely that it makes trusting any one of them difficult and none can be fully relied upon.
If Coyte Farm was built, the potential clawback of lost spend to Truro is expected to be in the region of £30 million. This will not all be spent on the new site. In the same way as a trip to one of Truro's out-of-town retail sites may result in stopping in the city centre for other shopping or a meal, the draw of Coyte Farm will get shoppers back to the town centre.
Clawback means bringing back money to be spent within the whole of St Austell again.
The problem is that measuring the exact local support or objection to the Coyte Farm is difficult.
Stop Coyte has generated more than 800 online signatures since November 2012, mostly between November 2012 and January 2013.
Less than half of these were from St Austell's catchment area: 26 per cent were from the rest of Cornwall, 22 per cent from the rest of the UK, 4 per cent from elsewhere in the world, and one is Michael Jackson, location Heaven.
Developers were asked to canvass opinion by knocking on doors in every ward in St Austell. They found the percentage of support as follows: Poltair, 71 per cent; Gover, 65 per cent; Bethel, 76 per cent; St Austell Bay, 70 per cent, and Mount Charles, 78 per cent.
But Councillor Walker claimed he had spoken to more than 1,000 people in his ward and 90 per cent were against it.
On November 8, local resident Tony Goodman set up a "Silent majority of St Austell speak up" Facebook page. The conversation on it is without doubt pro-Coyte. In just six weeks the current total is 463, and growing.
It can be argued that Facebook 'likes' are easy to make but 114 people are actively engaged and talking on this page, which says that a strong opinion in favour of Coyte Farm certainly exists.
In contrast, the Stop Coyte Farm Facebook page is 11 months old and has only 84 likes.
There are 20 town councillors in total who have been elected to represent the will of their constituents not their own interests. Three didn't vote, nine voted to oppose the retail development and eight voted for it.
Shopping is not all about Marks & Spencer, but you have to wonder if St Austell's position today would be more like Truro's if the town had not rejected them before.
SO, the council and powers-that-be cannot find an alternative to the Coyte Farm development. Well, how about this for a solution?
They don't want the proposed development where it is going and we don't want the incinerator.
So why don't we have the Coyte Farm development in St Dennis and they can have the incinerator?
Either that or build Coyte Farm beside the incinerator and use the energy to power all the houses and businesses that set up there.