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Retail plans opposed

Monday 18 February 2013 5:00

Business membership organisation the North East Chamber of Commerce is challenging plans for a new out of town retail park in Middlesbrough.

The NECC is questioning the need for and scale of the £120m Wester Gateway project in the Cannon Park area of the town, which, is has been claimed, could create up to 1,500 jobs.

The organisation claims there is a lack of demand for such a development and the potential for it to damage businesses currently on the site.

NECC head of member relations, Rachel Anderson has written to Middlesbrough Council raising concerns surrounding shopping and retail studies conducted more than six years ago and warning a lack of immediate interest could slow construction and worsen business uncertainty.

She said: “While we can see genuine economic benefits to improving Cannon Park, it’s hard to ascertain where demand for such radical proposals will come from. There appears to be no appetite amongst developers to build schemes like this in the short and medium term.

“The lack of demand suggests there would be a significant delay in construction adding to the uncertainty for the businesses already on the site.

“The study fails to look at the Tees Valley as a single conurbation. Teesside Park, the Cleveland Retail Park and Portrack Lane already have a large national chains and it is unlikely those retailers would place supplementary stores such a short distance from existing sites.”

NECC supports plans for a food store and development at the Newport Roundabout end of the site but not for further large scale retail space, fearing the effect on Middlesbrough town centre.

Anderson added: “There is no doubt that Cannon Park requires an upgrade, but any retail on the site would only work if it’s different to what is already available. It would be better to focus on the businesses already on there and improve the site around them to attract new companies.

“NECC members are emphatic that above all they would like to see a decision made on the future of Cannon Park to enable any business on or around the site to make informed decisions.  However, any decision to develop the site for retail must be based on the best and most recent available data not pre-recession figures.”

Chairman of the NECC Middlesbrough Committee and partner at Python Properties, Peter Broome voiced concerns that the proposals for Cannon Park were based on shopping surveys from 2007 before the recession and the rise of the internet competition.

He said: “There are some good businesses already based on Cannon Park who employ skilled people and are looking to invest and expand, they can’t do that without long term certainty and we would urge the Council to make swift decisions on the future of the site to give them the confidence to either invest or seek another site – an further decade of hiatus would be unacceptable.”

Middlesbrough Councillor Charlie Rooney, member for regeneration and economic development said: “We will look at the evidence again, it’s not a blueprint, we are still in consultation and of course we have listened to the Chamber of Commerce. They agree we need a supermarket, we’ll see what comes on the rest of the development. We are just trying to attract business to Middlesbrough.’’