FEARS have been raised Worcester could end up with a “hollow centre” after plans were unveiled to create a major retail park on the edge of the city.
Developer Land Securities has revealed proposals to build a multi-million pound shopping complex off Newtown Road, which could create about 1,000 jobs.
Major retailers including John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Next have already agreed to open stores as part of the scheme, which is expected to be submitted to Worcester City Council later this year.
However, the proposed Worcester Woods retail park is set to face strong opposition, with some business owners claiming it would have a “devastating impact” on the city centre.
More than 250 people viewed the plans, which would also include more than 1,000 car parking spaces, at public consultation events at The Hive and Wild Wood Rooms last week.
Neil Hunter, 81, who has owned Clockwatchers for 20 years on Mealcheapen Street, told The Observer he was “horrified” by the proposals as he believed Worcester could turn into a “doughnut city”.
“I have severe reservations about hollowing out the middle of the city,” he said. “In a America there are places where the whole of the middle is like a desert and everything is on the outside. When you go and see it, it just looks horrendous.
“We need to play to our strengths. The streets where the small shops are are full of character, but I think that could be damage by this.”
Coun Simon Geraghty, leader of Worcester City Council, said he welcomed John Lewis’ bid to create an ‘at home’ store in Worcester. But he insisted they needed to make sure the proposals would “complement rather than compete” with the city centre.
“I absolutely welcome the prospect of getting a John Lewis at home branch in the city as we have been encouraging them for a long while,” he said. “But I have always had a city centre first policy where we encourage retailers into the city centre to strengthen the retail offer and make sure it is vibrant, so we will have to be very careful with this.”
Nick Duffield, portfolio director for Land Securities, told The Observer he had received assurances from M&S and Next they would continue to run their city centre outlets.
“The question is will this hurt the town centre and the answer is no it won’t, so it is up to us to reassure people about that,” he added.