Retail park brings jobs as growth of Amble rolls on

Amble is finally getting its supermarket, alongside up to 200 new jobs, after a major retail development was given the green light this week.

The site of the former Northumberland Foods factory in Amble. Picture by Jane Coltman
The site of the former Northumberland Foods factory in Amble. Picture by Jane Coltman

Members unanimously approved the scheme for a Morrisons store, on the former Northumberland/Longbenton Foods site at Coquet Enterprise Park, at Tuesday night’s (April 2) meeting of Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee.

The plans, for what will be called Amble Retail Park, also include a petrol station and kiosk, four other retail units of varying sizes, a drive-thru coffee shop and 352 parking spaces.

The agents for the applicants, Advance Northumberland – the council-owned company which replaced Arch, say that the overall scheme, once built, will create up to 200 new full and part-time jobs, plus around 90 during the construction phase.

The site has been vacant since a long-running saga over the former food factory culminated in scores of redundancies in 2011, while many in the seaside town have been waiting for a major supermarket to open ever since outline approval for a store by The Braid was granted in 2009, only for Tesco to pull out in 2015.

However, although the scheme only sparked four formal objections, not everyone in Amble is happy. The town council did not oppose the development but did have some concerns.

The meeting heard from Ann Burke, who runs a business on Queen Street and highlighted a number of perceived errors and flaws in the retail impact assessment submitted as part of the application.

“This should be withdrawn until a true and fair study is put in place,” she added.

But Coun Jeff Watson, ward member for Amble West with Warkworth, spoke in favour of the scheme, pointing out that 2,000 homes had been approved in the town recently and additional infrastructure was needed to support this growth.

“I do share some of the problems of Ann Burke with the retail assessment, which was a desktop study,” he said.

“But we definitely need a supermarket in the centre of Amble. The town centre cannot physically cope with all the people who are going to live in Amble.

“We need a supermarket and we need the jobs it’s going to provide. We don’t want people shopping in Alnwick or going to Asda at Blyth.

“We have waited years for it, ever since Tesco withdrew its proposal on the other side of the town.”

James Smith, the area’s development manager for Morrisons, explained that the supermarket chain had identified Amble as a expanding town with a ‘limited retail offer’.

“This is a real opportunity to be able to better meet local shopping needs by providing a new retail development in Amble,” he said.

He also underlined the company’s policy to target local people for employment as much as possible.

In response to a question about the ‘flawed’ retail study, planning officer James Bellis told the committee that the council’s retail consultant had assessed the applicant’s submission and was happy with the impact on the town centre, as it will be ‘less than significant’.

Coun Trevor Thorne said: “It’s a brownfield site, it’s been derelict for nine or 10 years and it’s being put to good use.

“We have approved a lot of houses in Amble and with those, we need to provide more retail opportunities.

“Amble is unusual in that it doesn’t have one of the big supermarket names.”

In moving approval, Coun Thorne added a further condition to the permission, which means signage must be provided to flag up the town centre’s offering as well as other attractions in the Friendliest Port.

Coun Malcolm Robinson said: “I will support this application, but I’m very worried about the retail impact assessment.

“Why shouldn’t the residents of Amble be able to go to one of the large supermarkets?”

Coun Ian Swithenbank said: “It’s inevitable that a development of this type will take place in one form or another.

“There will be some impact on Queen Street, but it will be gradual. Over time, the nature of Queen Street will change.

“But thinking we will protect the status quo by not approving an application like this is wrong in my view.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service