Anger at a ‘lack of consultation’ over impact of out-of-town shops

An artists' impression of the proposed development.
An artists' impression of the proposed development.

Traders are angry that they were not consulted in a study of the impact a proposed new retail park on the outskirts of Alnwick would have on the town centre.

Northumberland Estates lodged a planning application in December for the major development on land south of Greensfield Industrial Estate.

In March, Northumberland County Council commissioned an independent retail assessment, but town-centre shop owners claim they have not been consulted as part of the study, the results of which have been published online.

It was conducted by Manchester-based Nexus Planning and it concludes that the retail park would not lead to a significant adverse impact on existing, committed and planned public and private sector investment.

It also concludes that existing retailers (including Morrisons, which would be the subject of the greatest town centre impact) would continue to trade successfully after the new units are operating.

‘Given the relatively low vacancy rate and general good health of Alnwick town centre, we do not believe that the proposal would result in any significant adverse [effects] at Alnwick (or at any other centre). The proposal would result in increased consumer choice,’ the report states.

At a meeting of Alnwick Chamber of Trade on Tuesday, Lisa Aynsley, who owns Hotspur 1364 menswear shop in Narrowgate, said: “Is it standard practice that when the impact study was done not a single trader or person in the town was contacted, or in fact that the impact study was done by a company based in Manchester? Can somebody make that decision without having been in the town? Our livelihoods are on the line – we are not frightened of the competition, but how can somebody make that decision?”

And at Alnwick Town Council’s meeting last week, Phillip Ginger, of PD Quick, on Bondgate Within, said: “This is a desk-top study done by a company in Manchester and not one question has been asked to any of the retailers in Alnwick about what the effect of the previous out-of-town retail has been.”

Argos, Homebase and Sainsbury’s opened more than a decade ago on the outskirts of the town, and Mr Ginger said that he had documented evidence of how they have impacted the town centre.

He said: “It reduces footfall. In 2008, I employed five people, now I only employ one.”

Coun Martin Swinbank said that the town council considered the application a few months ago and was in support of it, subject to an independent retail assessment being done.

He admitted that members had subsequently raised some scepticism about the independent report and how its findings would reflect in reality. But he added that the county council has gone down the correct route in commissioning the study.

Coun Swinbank did also say that there are people who do welcome extra shopping in an out-of-town location.

Alnwick Mayor Alan Symmonds urged traders to make their feelings known to the county council, which will decide on the scheme.

A county council spokesman said that Nexus Planning ‘is familiar with the area having undertaken retail work previously for the county council.’

The scheme includes a food store, a smaller unit for food and/or non-food retail, an additional non-food retail floor space, likely to be sub-divided into three separate units, a drive-through coffee shop and about 226 parking spaces.