New Waitrose store 'Yes' vote despite outbursts at meeting
AFTER ten years trying to open a store in the city Waitrose looks set to come to Truro.
A controversial project to build the 'destination supermarket', a Cornish Food Centre, park and ride, 97 homes and a recycling centre was approved by a narrow margin at a tumultuous Cornwall Council planning committee meeting on Thursday.
The noisy outbursts of objectors nearly led them to be thrown out as they booed and argued with people in support of the project, even claiming at one point the planning officer was "speaking rubbish".
But passionate feelings from the public gallery and the floor, voicing concerns an out-of-town Waitrose will decimate business in the city centre, did not turn the vote against it.
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The original decision for the Duchy of Cornwall land was deferred in December, when members sent officers off to find out what other sites were available in the city, among other details. Last week they said there were no suitable sites for the supermarket, even if the Cornish Food Centre was separated from the scheme. Jonathan Balham, from Waitrose, said: "Sites need to be available, suitable and viable. No city centre sites meet all three. Despite ten years of looking, this is the only site that can deliver a Waitrose."
Neil Scott, from Totally Truro, which represents 400 businesses in the city, called for Waitrose to be sited in Truro centre, its 'halo effect' bringing more people in and supporting other businesses.
Councillor Andrew Wallis summed up the draw of the supermarket: "People will come to Waitrose like flies to ... a light."
But some members argued having the project, including a Waitrose equivalent in size to the food hall in the Lemon Quay Marks & Spencer, was a "brilliant concept and a brilliant design".
Councillor John Wood said: "There will be a little pain now but there will be a gain for Cornwall, especially for Truro. It's superb for recreational shopping."
Concerns about prematurity were ousted amid arguments the project flew in the face of an emerging neighbourhood development plan. But despite promises it would be published in April and go to referendum in November, officers said this planning blueprint was too undeveloped to expect the applicants to abide by it.
The planned "buffer hedge", as it has been dubbed by Mr Wallis, was declared to be "as much use as Belgium" by Councillor Rob Nolan, as it would prevent development sprawling through it but not beyond it, which was the aim.
The 1 per cent impact the development was expected to have on trade in the town centre – 9 per cent for convenience sales – was not deemed sufficient to refuse the application either.
Councillor Bert Biscoe said: "If you're a small business in the town centre, a butcher in the Pannier Market, delicatessen in Victoria Square or cheese shop, 9 per cent is the difference between profit and loss."
After nearly four hours of speeches, questioning and several threats by chairman Mike Varney to throw out the overly vocal in the public gallery, the vote was going to be tight, as members spelt out their feelings.
In a recorded vote the application was approved 11 to 8, with a promise to negotiate a donation, or other community benefit, in the conditions.
It will now be deferred to the Secretary of State as a matter of course.
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