Leading retailer Jonathan James has expressed deep concern that planning policies are being ignored, after East Cambridgeshire District Council last week approved a 41,000sq ft supermarket on the outskirts of Soham.
The council’s planning committee unanimously approved the application, despite a district council officer’s report recommending it be refused. Jonathan, whose 9,000sq ft Budgens store is the largest grocery store in Soham town centre, questioned the logic behind the verdict.
“We have to acknowledge the decision, but I have significant concerns over planning policies being ignored and the fact that despite having a Retail Impact Assessment from an independent expert warning of the impact on the town centre, the members still approved it,” he told C-Store.
The district council officer’s report had recommended that retail development be focused on the town centre and identified “suitable, available and viable” alternative sites.
The report also highlighted concerns over an access roundabout that would be close to an existing roundabout, the poor quality of site illustrative plans and that the development itself would be “harmful to the vitality and viability of the town” which was a key point repeated in the Soham Masterplan.
In an effort to save the high street, the retailer had agreed to offers by two major multiples to buy his Budgens store on the condition the council rejected the out-of-town application.
Jonathan also expressed concern over the committee meeting itself. “We were told that all parties would be given five minutes to speak, but this was changed at the chairman’s discretion and those in favour were given 15 minutes,” he said.
The development, which also includes a pub/restaurant, a petrol filling station and 282 parking spaces, was approved on the basis that the site operator be identified.
418 days of uncertainty
March 2012: The application for a 41,000sq ft out-of-town retail development at Soham is submitted by Harrier Developments. Local retailer Jonathan James submits an objection to the development
April 2013: Jonathan is approached by two of the multiples with offers to buy his Budgens store on the condition the council rejects the out-of-town development
May 2013: East Cambridgeshire District Council presents an impact assessment of the application which is later revealed to be “harmful to the vitality and viability of the town”
May 2013: The application is approved by the planning committee on the condition that the operator of the site is revealed