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Winchester planners reject M&S plans for food store
MARKS and Spencer’s hopes for a new store in Winchester suffered a major setback yesterday.
Civic chiefs voted against allowing the conversion of the former Hendy Ford base in Easton Lane, Winnall, into a ‘Simply Food’ store.
M&S has already signed a deal with the developer agreeing to take over the site if planning approval is granted.
But yesterday (DEC 12) it emerged that council officials have come under pressure from the developers of Silver Hill, a joint £130m scheme between the city council and Henderson Global Investors.
In a letter, Henderson said: “The requirements of Marks and Spencer can be fully accommodated within the Silver Hill proposals and therefore any consent to an out of centre location at this time would be damaging to the viability of the Silver Hill development and in our view to the town centre as a whole.”
Officers said the council has a ‘town centre first’ policy for new shops, whereas this plan is on the edge of the city, and that there are better sites available, including 14 within the city centre.
Steve Opacic, Winchester’s head of strategic planning, was also critical of M&S’s stance during negotiations.
“We have invited M&S to come and meet officers to see if there is anything we can do but it’s very clear that there is no flexibility in M&S’s requirements.
“They want it well away from the town centre as that will compete with their current town centre site. They also made their conditions even more stringent by saying they wanted to be near Tesco so they could pick up some of the trade from that store,” he said.
A retail study in 2012 said that there was a need for 9,000 square metres of additional space in the city centre up to 2031.
Other potential sites for food retail redevelopment are the car parks at St Peter’s, Cossack Lane, Worthy Lane and the Carfax/railway station.
This proposal would have seen partial demolition of the building and a revamp to create 600 square metres of sales space, a 53-space car park, and dozens of jobs.
Robert Morray, of Marks and Spencer, said they are looking to offer two separate business models in the city, one on the edge of town and one in the centre.
“Please help us to grow our business in your town, invest in it, and create 60 new jobs,” he said.
But officers said the site is industrial and any use of it would likely result in new jobs.
Cllr Therese Evans said approving the application would be like “driving a horse and carriage through the city’s planning policies.”
She added: “Silver Hill is a multi-million pound scheme and negotiations are ongoing. We as a community should not be doing anything that would detract from the vibrancy of our town centre.”
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