A proposed 230 acre retail and leisure development, only eight miles from Wellington, at Junction 27 of the M5 near Tiverton Parkway, could have a detrimental impact on local towns, says Andy Sully, Wellington Business Association spokesperson for Planning and Economic Development.
“WBA’s stance is quite clear: anything that jeopardises businesses in and around Wellington is of major concern to us. Everyone knows the retail industry has been struggling across the country, as consumer spending moves increasingly away from the high street, due to the popularity of internet shopping<” said Sully.
“The proposed large food hall would have a detrimental effect on Wellington’s Food Town status. Wellington has been working hard over recent years to establish itself as a Food Town. It stages various food based festivals throughout the year, together with the popular fortnightly Farmers Market in the town.
“I do agree that jobs will be created in the initial construction period – the proposal states that a total of 4,000 jobs would be created – but clarification is needed as to the breakdown between initial construction and long term retail/leisure jobs.”
“This plan is very ambitious, if it gets the go ahead from Mid Devon Council, it will turn 230 acres of green fields beside Junction 27, into one of the South West’s largest out-of-town retail developments.”
The development is being backed by global fund management group AXA in a joint venture between Real Estate Investment Managers and Mountstephen Advisors
The details of the proposal were discussed by Wellington Business Association at their March meeting, where there was a mixed reaction at the news. If permission is granted, it could have an effect on Wellington, but it was felt that it could have a more serious impact on Taunton.
The proposal is for a retail park, with a food hall, concert hall, visitor centre, an IMAX cinema and a garden centre, together with 3,000 homes and a pedestrian link to Tiverton Parkway railway station. WBA felt that this ‘wish list’ may not be totally viable, but thought that some parts of the scheme could be very successful.
For example: the large concert hall could be beneficial in bringing visitors to the area, as there is nothing between Bristol and Plymouth. Although Wellington’s Wellesley Cinema could be affected, it does have a loyal membership who attends their live theatre shows and productions and is rated among the top ten venues in the UK.
At the meeting it was raised that there could be issues with commuting, because public transport between Wellington and Junction 27 is so poor. One of the current issues with Wellington is the amount of heavy traffic, congestion and parking problems, so people may by-pass Wellington and head to the free parking at Junction 27. However, if permission for the development is granted, it could give Wellington some bargaining power in order to gain it’s much needed railway station. This would provide an environmentally friendly transport link and help to reduce congestion and pollution in the town.
It was stated at the meeting that Wellington is not just ‘retail orientated’ but also has many businesses that are service providers. Therefore, Wellington service based businesses could potentially gain new clients from Junction 27.
Andy Sully added “Inevitably, it will take customers and jobs away from small local towns like Wellington, Tiverton, Cullompton, and bigger towns like Taunton and Exeter. In fact, Taunton’s own plans for the Firepool development, looks like a postage stamp compared to this proposal, as it is nearly 20 times the size.
“ If the proposal for J27 was taken to the next stage there would be an impact assessment which would need to demonstrate no adverse impact on local town centre vitality and viability, which I think they would fail on.”
“Wellington has become a more vibrant town in the last year, as many of its formerly empty shops have been re-let. It would be far better for Taunton Deane and Mid Devon Councils to work together to look at ways to make our existing local towns more sustainable for the future by reducing the number of empty shops.”
“Wellington needs to feel confident, as a community, that what it has to offer is attractive enough to be able to compete against such a large development on its doorstep.”
The next stage is a Local Plan Review for all proposals which will take place in November 2014 with more consultation, and will lead to an Examination in early 2015 where expected adoption of the Local Plan will be announced in May 2015.