Opponents of the Coyte Farm development will be interested to know that following the developers proposals and the objections to it by Ellandi, Cornwall Council commisioned a report by GVA (the UK’s largest independent commercial property consultants) to establish a non partisan view on the proposed retail developments in St. Austell.
The draft of this report was published in January under the heading:- Assessment of Retail Planning Policy: Retail Development Proposals at Pentewan Road,Penwinnick Road and Coyte Farm, St Austell.
The results of this work seem to have been kept under wraps as its conclusion is very damning:-
Taking all factors into account, we find there to be a number of significant negative aspects to the Coyte Farm proposal. The scale of the direct financial impact, the potential loss of retailers from the town centre and the loss of town centre vitality all weigh against the proposal. Any alleged positive factors for the town centre which do exist are either unproven or are not, in our opinion, of sufficient weight to overcome the clear negative impacts of the Coyte Farm scheme on the health of St Austell town centre. In our view whilst the Sainsburys store will have the largest adverse impact of the three supermarket proposals, it is the proposed shopping park in particular which is the key driver behind our conclusions over a range of negative impacts. When combined with the impacts associated with the Sainsburys store and the other main town centres uses, these negative impacts intensify.
The report is extremely detailed and lengthy but, for now, we shall confine ourselves to quoting some of the summary points on Coyte Farm. In essence, it’s all negative.
- With regards to the impact on investment in town centres, the Coyte Farm proposal should be separated out into its supermarket and ‘shopping park’ elements. The impacts of the proposed Sainsburys supermarket element of the scheme are likely to be as we have predicted in relation to the Penwinnick Road and Pentewan Road proposals. Whilst it has the largest comparison goods floorspace of the three supermarket proposals, the Sainsburys will primarily be a food shopping destination. That said, the scale of the comparison goods floorspace within the Sainsburys will be of such a scale that it could sell a very wide of products and where this occurs it will compete with St Austell town centre. However, where the comparison goods element of the Sainsburys is controlled then we do not consider that there would be a likelihood of investment projects being affected by Sainsburys.
- In relation to the ‘shopping park’ element of the scheme, this will be providing direct competition with the main function of St Austell town centre, providing retail units which will compete with town centre premises. As a consequence of these characteristics, we are concerned over the potential for the ‘shopping park’ to effect investment in the town centre. Investment in the town centre is reliant on demand from new retailers wanting premises and existing retailers attracting sufficient expenditure to make further investment worthwhile. In our view, the Coyte Farm ‘shopping park’ is likely to affect both of these circumstances.
- For example, Coyte Farm has the potential to attract retailers and food/drink operators that would otherwise have located in the town centre. Where this occurs, this would be an adverse impact for the town centre. During our connsideration of these proposals there has been debate over whether Coyte Farm would be a benefit to St Austell because it would be able to attract new retailers who would not consider locating within the town centre. Notwithstanding the significant financial impact that even this scenario would cause, it is important to consider the wider implications of these arguments. For there to be any ‘benefit’ the retailers and other businesses occupying the shopping park would need to be new retailers to St Austell and who genuinely would have never considered occupying space in the town centre. No evidence is presented by the applicant to demonstrate this eventuality and, more importantly, it cannot be guaranteed by the form of this application.
- The ‘shopping park’ proposal is for unrestricted Class A1 comparison goods floorspace (with an element of restricted convenience goods floorspace) comprising units of a minimum unit size of 465sq m and a maximum size of 4,645sq m. These are the only restrictions proposed and beyond these there are many permutations for the shopping park in terms of the number and type of occupier. For example, there is no way of restricting occupation to retailer ‘X’ rather than retailer ‘Y’ and this means that the scenario whereby outlined above cannot be guaranteed.
- Moreover, given that the lack of significant restrictions within the ‘shopping park’ at Coyte Farm are permanent, then the effects of the scheme will be long-lasting with potential changes in the future being different to those which may initially be experienced and/or predicted.
- Overall, we consider that there is the likelihood that both existing and future investment in St Austell town centre will be affected by the shopping park. The effect on existing investment will be in the form of adverse impacts on the investment in the town centre by organisations such as Ellandi, who have recently purchased WRP, and are seeking further tenants for the shopping centre. Future investment would also be affected where retailers and other businesses are presented with a choice of Coyte Farm and the town centre and choose Coyte Farm.
- Overall, we consider that the shopping park element of the Coyte Farm proposal has the potential to have an adverse impact on investment in St Austell town centre. We consider that due to the nature of the proposal, existing and future investment could be harmed and the applicant has not submitted any information to reassure the Council that such an eventuality can be avoided.
- Coyte Farm will have, by far, the largest direct financial impact on St Austell town centre. The centre’s convenience goods sector will lose 16%-21% of its turnover, whilst the comparison goods sector will experience a reduction in turnover of 28%. Overall, the impact on the town centre’s turnover at 2017 will be 27%-28%.
- In our view, many parts of the town centre’s comparison goods sector could be affected and, due to the unrestricted nature of the ‘shopping park’, these adverse effects could change over time. Therefore, key sectors in the town centre’s economy, such as clothes and shoes, personal and luxury goods, household goods, recreational goods and toys/games all face potentially considerable competition. Given the scale of the likely impact on the comparison good sector, store closures cannot be ruled out and, in our view, are a likely consequence of Coyte Farm proceeding.
- The knock-on effect of the loss of retailers from the town centre, via either direct financial impact or impact on investment (as outlined in the previous section), could be to reduce choice and competition within the centre. Such a consequence would be an adverse impact for the town centre as it struggles to offer the range and breadth of products demanded by consumers and, in turn, fails to maintain and enhance shopping visits to the centre.
And there’s much more along the same lines.
The questions we ask are:-
- Is this report in the public domain and, if not, why?
- Have the Strategic Planning Committee seen it?
- Is it true that another report was commissioned from GVA a few months later, following the successful planning submission by Morrisons at Pentewan Road. Common sense would suggest that the impact of Coyte Farm would now be even more injurious to the Town Centre. So how did the results compare? Or was it just another go at ‘getting the right answer’