Grocers declare ‘store wars’

Asda asks council to defer decision on Morrisons amid ‘town’s not big enough for the both of us’ claims.

TWO supermarket giants are preparing to go head-to-head in Barnstaple amid industry assumptions that the town is only big enough for one of the proposed foodstores.

Asda has written to council planners asking them to defer consideration of an application by Morrisons until plans can be viewed alongside the company’s own proposals for the regeneration of Anchorwood Bank.

Both firms want to build supermarkets at either end of Barnstaple’s downstream bridge.

Morrisons submitted a proposal for a 30,000 sq ft store and petrol station on the Evans Transport site in September last year, while an application for a 40,000 sq ft Asda food store and petrol station on the other side of the river has been submitted but is still to be registered by the council.

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The Asda plans are also expected to feature 450 new homes, a 60-bed hotel, office space, restaurants, cafes, small shops and community facilities.

But a letter, sent to North Devon Council by solicitors on behalf of Asda, says that “a quantitative need can only be demonstrated for one scheme of this scale in Barnstaple.”

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It seeks confirmation that the firm’s application will be determined in “a fair and lawful manner”.

The letter continues: “I am not requesting that the council do anything untoward in deferring the Morrisons application.

“I believe it is essential that the council considers the two schemes as direct alternatives and that members are provided with a detailed review of both sites prior to reaching a final decision on either scheme.”

The council’s lead planning officer Keith Bines said that Morrisons had been made aware of the letter and had been asked for comment.

He said: “We will consider the Asda request in light of Morrisons comments and come to a decision on whether it is appropriate or not.”

Asked about the likelihood that Barnstaple could only support one of the two proposed supermarkets, Mr Bines said: “Asda have presumably done their own assessment and have come to that conclusion.

“It is impossible to assess the impact at this stage because we have not seen both the applications.”

Speaking to the Gazette this week, both firms appeared to agree that the applications should be determined in light of the other.

James French, campaigns and planning manager for Morrisons, said: “We see this all the time. If it’s a prime site, you usually find a couple of the big four retailers interested.

“I can’t see why the council wouldn’t want to look at both applications in tandem because they want what’s best for the town.”

Oliver Jones, Asda property communications manager, said he suspected there was “probably only enough capacity for one supermarket” and called for the council to consider the applications together “so that we get a fair run at it”.

He said: “When it comes down to it the most important piece of planning policy is called the sequential test. When you have two sites that are both close to the town centre it is worth looking at them both together to be able to apply the test more fairly.”

Mr Bines said that the council still the council still had “a bit of time” as it was awaiting amended details and additional information from Morrisons relating to the retail assessment and surface water disposal.

He said a “few minor details” were still needed to validate the Asda application.

“We have spoken with the applicant’s agents to discuss what we need and once we are satisfied we have that, the application will be registered and advertised and we will begin consultations with the relevant bodies.”

Meanwhile, North Devon Council is expected to appoint consultants to carry out a retail and leisure study for the whole of northern Devon including Torridgeside, by the end of the month.

Mr Bines said the council hoped to have the finished study by the end of June, with a report on convenience food by May.

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