The application for an M&S Food store in opposite the Eco Park will be debated by the Southern Planning Committee on Tuesday 16 January. Planning officers have recommended that the committee approves the application.
Twenty people and organisations have supported the application. Ten have opposed it, including Davies Street, the owner of the Sainsbury’s site. Ludford Parish Council has commented on the application requesting more information but it has not objected. It opposes the allocation of the site for development but the decision on that was made a decade ago.
The store is expected to employ around 70 people in full and part-time jobs.
The issues committee members will need to consider include whether there is any reason to refuse the application due to its location, design, the traffic it will generate, and its impact on the landscape and the town centre. As usual on this application, I won’t give an opinion on the overall merits of the application before the committee hearing. That said, under current planning national and local planning rules, I can see no strong reasons to turn this application down. However, the decision will be down to committee members.
The store’s turnover in 2028 is estimated at £13 million. Some of this will be new spending but much of it will come from existing stores, including independent traders.
The biggest hit will be on Sainsbury’s, a store that does not seem to be trading flat out. Sainsbury’s has an estimated turnover of £9.93 million, just 60% of its benchmark of £16.55 million. The retail analysts engaged by M&S predict that M&S Food will draw 32% of its turnover from Sainsbury’s by 2028. That will reduce the take at the tills to £9.73 million, just 55% of the company benchmark. That must bring the survival of the store into question.
Tesco has an estimated turnover of £20.20 million, double its benchmark turnover of £10.36 million. The benchmark is the company average for the size of store. It is predicted Tesco will lose more than 7% of its trade to M&S Food, hardly a threat. Aldi has an estimated turnover of £18.82 million, nearly twice the company benchmark of £10.33 million. Predictions suggest it will lose more than 13% of its trade to M&S Food.
The impact on town centre trade, the developer’s consultants argue, will not be major. Traders may disagree as the expectation is the town centre will lose 5% of its convenience turnover, £1.8m. This will hit some traders more than others – especially those selling fresh vegetables and fruit and meat.
It has been suggested many times that M&S should take on the former Budgens store on Upper Galdeford. That would be an ideal solution if it was big enough. The former Budgens building is just over 1,000 square metres. M&S Food will be twice the size at 2,017 square metres (21,711 square ft). The courts have ruled that councils cannot dictate the size of retail units.
If the Southern Planning Committee approves the application and the proposed planning conditions, sale of comparison goods such as clothing will be restricted to a maximum of 10% of the retail area. The store will be prohibited from having a dry cleaners, pharmacy or other non-food operation without further planning permission. M&S Food has no plans to sell clothing or dispense medicines. However, the planning application is for a retail unit and the permission will not specify that it has to be M&S Food.