CONTROVERSIAL plans for the Worcester Woods retail development have been refused after councillors said it would have a “devastating” effect on the city centre.
After a lively debate at the Guildhall, Worcester City Council’s planning committee rejected the proposal for the £150m out-of-town retail park on Newtown Road with an overwhelming nine to one vote, deciding the plans would have a detrimental impact on the city centre’s shops.
Officials stated the 396,175sq ft development, which was set to include a John Lewis, M&S, Sainsbury’s and Next Home & Garden, would mean job losses, reduced footfall and empty shops.
According to an independent report, the city centre would suffer a proposed 10.8 per cent loss.
Conservative Coun Alan Feeney said: “It is a complicated issue. I have gone to the shops and have spoken to businesses. People are scared.
“They have weathered the economic decline but they don’t think they can weather this. I’m not willing to be one of the the councillors who murders the city centre just to get a John Lewis.”
A number of business owners voiced their concerns including Adrian Field, from Worcester’s Business Improvement District (BID), who was backed by Becky Sutcliffe, from 25 Boutique, and Ed Wood, from Worcester Furniture Exhibition Centre.
Mr Field said: “There will be a long-term devastating effect on businesses, causing empty units and a downturn in footfall and sales.
“This will be the death of the city centre. We don’t want to make the same irreversible mistakes other cities in the UK have made.”
During the debate, Coun Simon Cronin compared the development to a “collection of sheds”.
He said: “As far as quality is concerned, this application is at the bottom. The idea the retail heath of this city, which has grown over 2,000 years, could be threatened by a collection of sheds is absurd.
“Most of the city centre businesses have been awaiting this meeting in a great state of anxiety because they know the impact it will have on their survivability.
“John Lewis, please come to Worcester, we have been waiting for you for a long time, but not like this.”
The current Mayor of Worcester, Councillor Paul Denham, was the only councillor to not back refusal, stating there was “lots of opinion and no certainty”.
The applicant, Land Securities, which is the biggest developer in the UK, argued the benefits of reduced parking and congestion in the city, with more high profile retailers attracting people to Worcester.
Nick Duffield, from Land Securities, said: “This is not a fashion park, it will predominantly be home and lifestyle.
“The city centre will remain the centre of retail and leisure. It will not mean retailers will close and it will not mean significant harm.
“What is the harm in supporting a new investment that will make Worcester number one for all retail needs? Do you want to be the first city to say no to John Lewis?”