Green light for new Alnwick retail park and M&S store

A computer-generated image of the new M&S store.
A computer-generated image of the new M&S store.

A new retail park in Alnwick – which will house a Marks and Spencer Foodhall and Turnbull’s the butchers among others – has been given the green light.

The development, featuring the M&S food store, another four retails units – three of which are in a terraced block, and a drive-thru coffee shop, on land south of Greensfield Industrial Estate, was approved by Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee yesterday.

A computer-generated image of the new M&S store.

A computer-generated image of the new M&S store.

It had already been revealed that Marks and Spencer was taking on the largest, 1,100 square metre store, but the meeting heard that established local business Turnbull’s of Alnwick would be taking on one of the other units in addition to its town-centre shop.

Alnwick Chamber of Trade (Act), Alnwick Civic Society and Local Living, which runs the town’s markets, had joined forces to oppose the plans and the latter’s Philip Angier said that the proposals were not supported by the neighbourhood plan, of which he was one of the authors.

Act vice-chairman David Taylor added: “We don’t want to see town centres destroyed by out-of-town developments, only to find that they are not viable and leaving us in a very poor position.”

But the town council and Alnwick’s county councillors backed the scheme, albeit the town council had several outstanding concerns, in relation to the likes of bus connections and road crossings at the A1 Willowburn roundabout.

Coun Robbie Moore, one of the ward councillors, said: “There is a current leakage of trade down the A1 to Morpeth so this can only be a good thing for consumers in Alnwick and the wider north Northumberland area.

“Trading conditions on the high street are brutal, but this is due to a changing marketplace and going online, and this is happening all over the country.”

Colin Barnes, from developer Northumberland Estates, highlighted that this development represented a £5million investment, would create around 100 jobs and ‘is widely supported by the population of Alnwick and the surrounding area’.

“While lots of towns are bemoaning the loss of Marks and Spencer, we have spent six months trying to convince them that north Northumberland is a good place for their business,” he added.

Moving approval, Coun Trevor Thorne said: “There is a leakage down to Morpeth, at the moment Morpeth is buzzing, but this investment would go some way to plug that leak.”

Coun Barry Flux added: “The retail sector is brutal, it’s changing at a rate of knots and in the news we see Marks and Spencer are closing stores left, right and centre. They are looking to open a new store here and it would be looking a gift horse in the mouth to refuse this.”

Coun Rupert Gibson said that the centres of Northumberland’s old market towns cannot accommodate stores like Marks and Spencer, adding: “If something like this doesn’t happen, you are cutting yourself off.”

Couns Guy Renner-Thompson and Malcolm Robinson both had some sympathy over the impacts on traders in the town centre, but Coun Robinson went on: “However, you can’t put a glass bowl over a place and watch it decay.”

Coun Renner-Thompson questioned whether the retail park would actually house any competitors to those businesses already in the town centre, adding: “You need to get people to come to Alnwick in the first place.”

In moving approval, Coun Thorne added a condition that a section 106 legal agreement should be signed to get a sum of money from the developer to improve bus services between the new retail park and the town centre.

Planning officers advised against this course of action, saying it could be dealt with in a different manner, which worried some members of the committee and so the application was approved by 10 votes to three.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service