BARNSTAPLE S business community has expressed concerns about proposals for a massive retail development in the centre of Barnstaple. Plans for the transformation of the 12-acre site at Queen Street and Bear Street were revealed by developers Wilson Bowden

BARNSTAPLE'S business community has expressed concerns about proposals for a massive retail development in the centre of Barnstaple.Plans for the transformation of the 12-acre site at Queen Street and Bear Street were revealed by developers Wilson Bowden during a series of consultation briefings with local media, residents, businesses and members of the public last week.And after developers appeared to pull the plug on a lively question and answer session that followed a presentation to Barnstaple Town Centre Management members on Thursday, one business leader has spoken about what he sees as "glaring flaws" in the scheme.Barnstaple and District Chamber of Commerce chairman Rob Ford told the Gazette that he would be putting his concerns to the Chamber at a meeting tonight (Wednesday)."Having been to the private consultation, I must say that I have absolutely no confidence that this proposal is viable, at all sustainable, right for Barnstaple or even in the right location," said Mr Ford."There are several glaring flaws in the scheme, and from what could be ascertained - from not one single person answering a direct question - no proper consideration is paid to the existing retail of our High and other shopping streets. "I am all for development in Barnstaple, but there is a genuine and real fear that this will leave a big hole in the local economy."There were a lot of worried people there [at the meeting] and I believe rightly so. Scale models and pretty pictures are one thing, but if it all falls down under scrutiny, the public should not just be swayed by the fact they might get a Debenhams or another shoe shop."There needs to be some real focus on the issues at the heart of this project - on the local people who live and work in Barnstaple, and on our economy."Mr Ford added that he did not believe North Devon Council were being objective as they were the landowners and partners in the development. "At the end of the day, should planning be submitted, it is almost certain to be guaranteed a rubber stamp," he said.Green Lanes Shopping Centre manager Jan Dayman echoed Mr Ford's concerns that the new development could eventually "kill" the High Street.She said: "The idea is superb - but what will be the knock-on effect for other traders in the town?"The link between the new development and the High Street is a tenuous one. I think the council is taking a massive risk."If they can maintain the retail mix it could be brilliant for Barnstaple. But it's a big 'if' - we just don't know. I think this has to be very carefully thought through."Mrs Dayman said that Green Lanes had been trying hard to target the same retailers being mentioned by Wilson Bowden but had been told that Barnstaple was "too far off the beaten track" and that the town did not have a large enough footfall."We can't attract those retailers here and we are based in the High Street," she said."It would be great for Barnstaple to have the kind of retailers that shoppers can find in Exeter but the feedback we get from the larger nationals is that the town doesn't have a big enough catchment area."If developers are unable to attract the retailers they want to the Queen Street site, we could then have a situation where our current national retailers are poached from the High Street. Some have already expressed an interest to go to the new site."Chairman of Barnstaple Town Centre Management Peter Banbury told the Gazette that the TCM would most likely be writing to Wilson Bowden to seek answers to questions that were left unanswered at Thursday night's meeting."I would propose that we as a group ask for clarification on questions asked on the evening that were not answered fully, or at all, to enable us to make an informed decision on the project in its current guise," he said.But on Monday, developer Wilson Bowden said it was "encouraged" by the level of local interest following an exhibition held in Barnstaple Pannier Market on Friday and Saturday.More than 500 people attended the two day event, part of a comprehensive consultation strategy being carried out by developers in conjunction with North Devon Council.Patrick Arthurs, planning director at Wilson Bowden Developments, said:"We are encouraged by the level of local interest in the development scheme, and the feedback given on our development proposals will be incorporated in to the final plans prior to the submission of a planning application later this year."The exhibition has now been moved to the Civic Centre. Information packs and response forms will be available until July 30 when the period of public consultation comes to a close.Submission of a planning application for the development is expected in late 2008 or early 2009.