Council throws out £12m shops scheme on Project site
Thursday, 21st October 2010.
It took councillors less than half an hour this morning to throw out plans for a £12million investment in new shops and business units for Haverhill, which would have brought 260 jobs.
The former Project site scheme, called Hamlet Green, from Cambridge firm HPG Developments, would have brought the Ehringshausen Way site back into use as 11 business units, nine warehouses, four shops, a builders' merchants and a drive-thru restaurant.
Wickes had already agreed to come to the builders' merchants site and it emerged at this morning's meeting the drive-thru restaurant would have been a MacDonalds.
But St Edmundsbury Borough Council development control committee, meeting in Haverhill after visiting the site, agreed to refuse the application by a majority of eight to one, fundamentally because of fears it might damage the town centre.
Nearly half the committee of 16 failed to turn up to the meeting. The three Haverhill councillors on the committee all voted to refuse the plan, although two other Haverhill councillors, Gordon Cox and Les Ager, had sent letters supporting the scheme.
The plans were outlined by council planning officer Gemma Pannell, including an assesment report which estimated the proposed development would draw ten per cent of its turnover from the town centre - about £1million a year.
Members of the public who had registered to speak at the meeting were then allowed three minutes each.
Only three had done so, one of them the agent for the developer. The other two were Mark Chapman, of Chapman and Son in Haverhill High Street, and Haverhill Town Councillor Alison Snape.
Mr Chapman said the town centre was very fragile at the moment and business was not good.
"Anything that erodes footfall from the town centre is bad news," he said. "I believe the next retail development in Haverhill should be on the Gurteen site in the town centre and not further out of town.
"High streets are being boarded up up and down the country and this is due to out-of-town shops. We pay very high rates in Haverhill town centre and we deserve some protection."
Mrs Snape said the town council objected to the scheme because it took the view that it would significantly contribute to under-trading in the town centre.
"I understand the need for employment but we should encourage other retail sites to be used and the Project site should be kept for employment," she said.
"As a councillor for the east ward I am concerned especially about the drive-thru restaurant, which will cause higher levels of traffic noise, which can be heard further up the estate."
Robert Shrimpling, agent for the developers, said the plan represented a £12million investment in Haverhill at a time when public and private investment was very scarce.
Investment had provided real and dramatic change in Haverhill recently and this scheme would ensure it was maintained, he said.
"This is a visible sign of confidence on a gateway site in the town," he said. "It will provide 260 new jobs, the employment units will provide an economic boost, a quarter of a million pounds will be made available for improvements to the town centre and the wildlife site at the rear of the site will be enlarged."
He claimed it had backing from several councillors and MP Matthew Hancock, and it would help stimulate the town centre, not damage it.
With regard to the Gurteen site, he said Wickes had already indicated this would not be suitable for them.
"Nevertheless, it is true there is a delicate balance to be struck between the positive and negative aspects of the scheme," he said.
Councillors did not engage in any lengthy debate, with Cllr Robert Clifton-Brown of Little Bradley the only member in favour of the plan.
"The site is already there," he said. "It is an expensive site to develop and there are 260 jobs at stake. I would support it."
But Haverhill councillor Anne Gower, who had asked for the committee to meet in Haverhill and had hoped more people might attend, said she did not believe the scheme would encourage more people to shop locally.
"I agree the site needs developing because it is a bit of a blot on the landscape at present," she said. "I support the business start-up units. But I have sympathy with Mr Chapman that we have to protect the town centre retailers to keep it viable.
"I have an issue with the drive-thru restaurant, which is MacDonalds, I believe, in that we have anti-social behaviour problems at the sites of the two drive-thru restaurants in the town, and residents whose lives are badly affected by it."
Members were worried the developers might not get takers for the shops and then might come back with applications to use more of them as restaurants, but were told by council planning director Patsy Dell they had to consider the application in front of them and not their fears for the future.
Anglian Water objected to the scheme because it was within 400m of their sewage treatment works, part of a new policy the company had developed with regard to planning applications, due to fears that development might lead to odour issues.
Ms Dell said the council's own environmental health officers did not agree, but the planning department had to back Anglian Water as a statutory authority, on the understanding they would provide resources for any appeal, if the plan was approved.
Haverhill councillor Tim Marks pointed out there were many homes well within the 400m limit, one of which had only just been built, and he found Anglian Water's objection 'disingenuous at least'.
The grounds for the committee's refusal were that the site was not not allocated for retail in the local plan, so would be contrary to council policy, and that the assumptions about impact on the town centre were not justified.
A secondary ground was in support of Anglian Water's objection.
Planners also considered the allotment site in Duddery Hill should have been considered first as it is closer to the town centre.
Members were told this site, which includes the Wisdom Toothbrushes buildings, had been allocated for bulky goods retail in a previous local plan but was deleted by a planning inspector.
Planners now felt it was appropriate this site should be included as part of any plans for Haverhill's retail development, particularly as it was now more likely to become available, due to recent changes at Wisdom.
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