Coyte Farm retail park opposed despite stores' interest
Retail giant Marks and Spencer wants to open a store at a planned £110 million retail park in Cornwall.
But members of St Austell Town Council have objected to the ambitious out-of-town shopping park at Coyte Farm.
At a meeting of the council last week, Simon Hoare, of Mercian Developments Ltd, the company behind Coyte Farm, said: "I'm delighted to announce that terms have been agreed with M&S, confirmed in a letter on December 3."
He described the store's involvement as "a golden opportunity for the town" and said M&S had confirmed to White River Place owner Ellandi that it wouldn't come to the existing shopping centre. Clothing chain Next said it wouldn't come to the town centre, but wanted to have a presence in St Austell.
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Mr Hoare added: "The benchmark [in the town centre] appears to have been set by bringing in a 99p store. You're not going to get better class retailers sitting alongside a 99p store."
Steve Double, town and Cornwall councillor, said: "Names like M&S and Next hunt in packs. They go together and I'm not convinced the centre of St Austell is able to take that number of retailers."
But town councillor Nick Cook described it as a "golden carrot" being dangled by Mercian.
The only other M&S stores in Cornwall are at Truro, Falmouth and Hayle. A Marks and Spencer spokesperson confirmed the chain's interest but said that it was "interested solely in the retail park area and not in the town centre".
Dozens of residents turned out at the meeting to oppose the scheme, which would see a Sainsbury's, 160,000 sq ft shopping park, care home and pub built on 98 acres of green land in St Mewan.
"There are some who oppose the development who would have you believe my three colleagues here tonight and I are the four horsemen of the apocalypse," said Mr Hoare.
He said the build would bring 1,300 jobs to combat the fact that 13.3 per cent of St Austell's working population is unemployed. In the public participation part of the heated meeting, 18-year-old Jacob Double, son of Councillor Double, voiced his support for the development.
"It doesn't take an expert to realise our town centre isn't that special," he said. "For as long as I can remember St Austell has been unable to offer the shops people want.
"People my age have grown up with a negative mind set towards it. My generation has a significant desire to move away. This development could put St Austell back on the map.
"Just think about what young people need to have a future here."
Among the crowd were representatives from campaign group Save Our Unspoilt Land (SOUL), White River Place owners Ellandi, a newly formed Coyte Farm Action Group, the business improvement district (BID) and the St Austell Bay Chamber of Commerce.
Steve Hurst, of the chamber, said: "St Austell town centre has experienced a dramatic transformation over the last ten years and the town went through a long, dark tunnel of pain with a lot of traders going bust. If [Coyte Farm] happens we are absolutely sure St Austell will become a ghost town."
Some chamber members declared that three town traders would not renew their leases because of the threat of Coyte Farm and others claimed if it was built they would be forced to close.
Morgan Garfield, of Ellandi, said there would be "vacant property, urban decay and sadly, community breakdown" if it was given the green light.
There were ten votes in favour of objecting to Coyte Farm, while three councillors abstained.
The planning application is now due to go before Cornwall Council's strategic planning committee on January 17 with two other major supermarket proposals for St Austell.