Residents have real concerns

I am sure I will be one of many writing to express dismay at the decision by Northumberland County Council's strategic planning committee to approve the application for a new retail park close to Morrisons in Berwick-upon-Tweed, (Berwick Advertiser, September 6).

In a remarkable display of cognitive dissonance, the committee’s proposer of this application, Coun Thorne, who lives a good 50 miles from Berwick and is therefore unlikely to be troubled by the development, acknowledges whilst supporting the application that Berwick town centre ‘is definitely struggling’ and that ‘the sky is very black’.

Yet 11 councillors were able to persuade themselves that the proposal would be good for the town.

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Further examples of the irony in this decision are clear from your report.

While seeming to dismiss the risk to local people and properties from flooding and road safety, members of the committee were worried about the ‘heart and livelihood of the town centre’. The heart and livelihood will surely take a serious knock if our representatives are so dismissive of constituents’ concerns, more so if those concerns were realised.

As for the applicant’s planning consultant, Mr Francis, who brushes aside objections as ‘ficticious or unable to be substantiated’, it would seem that Mr Francis, (who is based in Manchester and thus well removed from the inevitable negative impact of the development) is a paid spokesman for the Freemen of Berwick, who are, I believe, both the owners of the land and the body on whose behalf the application has been made.

I believe it is a remarkable show of arrogance for a professional to display this level of contempt for more than 100 professional and lay objectors.

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In researching the background to the application, I was surprised to see that a main contractor, Caddick Construction, has already been selected and that the provisional start date is May 26, 2019. Sub-contractors are now being sought for fitting out two of the shops.

Whilst forward planning is necessary, it seems the applicants must have had very good grounds for supposing that the application would be granted, regardless of any objection.

The expression ‘cut and dried’ springs to mind.

It is also ironic that this decision has been taken by the ‘strategic planning’ committee.

It is difficult to see how the retail park will fit into any wider strategic context.

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There is ample evidence from other towns that this kind of development sucks business from the town centre. It will be too late by the time this is acknowledged here.

Even the casual observer will note that the Morrisons car park has a regular supply of tourist coaches stopping there

Sadly, that’s what they do: Stop, shop at Morrisons and get back on the A1. There seems no prospect of them going into town, and with a wider range of shops in addition to Morrisons, this practice will only be reinforced.

I would also draw attention to the promises of some of the businesses planning to move to the retail park.

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Home Bargains has ‘indicated’, and its ‘indication’ apparently accepted as a truth by the committee, that it would not expect to close the town centre shop once the new one is opened.

This is simply ludicrous. There are many towns larger than Berwick that have no Home Bargains shops, yet we are asked to believe that the company will maintain two branches here?

Likewise Costa Coffee: there are other good coffee shops competing in town, yet we are told Costa will move to a less competitive environment and leave the Marygate one as it is.

And what is to prevent Iceland simply stocking its sister shop Food Warehouse with Iceland-branded products, then giving up the premises in Marygate?

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Simple economics and the current preoccupation with failing high streets nationally suggests that these promises are hollow.

As a final thought, may I suggest that the Advertiser might have better served the people of Berwick-upon-Tweed had the paper highlighted more details of the objections, possibly even prior to the formal consideration of the application.

There are very real concerns about flooding, traffic problems at McDonald’s/Travelodge and back to the A1 roundabout, litter, light pollution, access, noise, damage to wildlife habitats, public health and social policy.

The vast majority of those who submitted objections are residents of the immediate vicinity of the plan and therefore more likely to be affected by its implementation.

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But that does not mean that other residents, and the town itself, will be unaffected: the degradation of the town centre is likely to continue – there are at least six empty shops in Marygate now; a reduction in town centre footfall will lead to closure amongst the independent sector, which energises towns of this size; and recent Government figures show no real difference between income growth and inflation, so there is no additional money within the local economy to be spent in the new shops.

In conclusion, I have to say that I remain unconvinced of the local business need for this proposal, and to repeat my dismay at the councillors’ and applicants’ apparent contempt for the views of local residents.

John Anderson