Store’s bid to overcome planning ban

Joseph Bulmer

Laura Ashley attempts to hurdle restrictions at out-of-town Barnstaple retail park

BARNSTAPLE’S Laura Ashley store has waded into a row about planning restrictions at the town’s retail parks.

The store at Barnstaple Retail Park, Seven Brethren, has applied to North Devon Council to change a condition that currently prevents it from selling clothing.

A similar application by Dunelm Mill to vary the “bulky goods” restriction at the former MFI store at the Roundswell Business Park has been passed to the planning inspectorate after the council planners stalled on the decision.

Dunelm Mill appealed against the non-determination and a public inquiry has been scheduled for October 11.

Laura Ashley is seeking permission to dedicate 20 per cent of the store’s sales area to be used for the display and sale of clothing.

The store currently only sells homeware and furnishing due to the restrictions imposed by the council when the retail park was originally built in 1999.

Conditions were imposed limiting businesses to the sale of “bulky goods” only although subsequent variations have been permitted at the park for the sale of pet goods and office equipment.

Laura Ashley currently has 215 shops in retail parks and town centres around the country. Of the 72 shops located on retail parks, 46 stores sell clothing.

A retail statement by the company said the Barnstaple store was currently “undertrading” when compared against the company average for a store of a similar size that sells clothing.

“The store traded 37 per cent lower than the average 4,000-5,000sq ft Laura Ashley store selling home products and clothing between January 2010 and January 2011,” said the study submitted to the council.

“Allowing the sale of clothing will help ensure the longer term viability of the store by improving the qualitative retail offer and raising the store’s profitability.”

The application does not seek to introduce any additional floorspace and no alternations to the external appearance of the building are proposed.

The firm say that the changes would not harm the vitality and viability of Barnstaple town centre.

The council will determine the application following a period of public consultation that ends on September 23.