Allowing Sports Direct to move into an out-of-town retail park would set a dangerous precedent and put the future of Chichester’s city centre shops in the balance.
That is the argument being put forward by the city’s business leaders, who fear allowing the clothes giant to move into Barnfield Drive would lead to other retailers abandoning the city centre to join the growing shopping park.
As reported recently, Sports Direct is aiming to join Aldi, Wickes and Halfords in Phase One of Barnfield Drive, currently being built to the north-east of the city centre next to the cemetery.
Currently, the unit where Sports Direct wants to move into has planning permission, but with the crucial condition that units A and B shall not be used for clothing, including sports wear and children’s clothing.
Sports Direct, through an agent, wants to remove that condition, along with increasing the size of the unit, but opponents say doing so would make Barnfield Drive a direct competitor to Chichester’s town centre traders.
An official objection from Chichester Chamber of Commerce states: “We object to the planning as it has the potential to adversely affect the retail offer in the city centre by setting a precedent.
Adding that condition 3 (to prevent clothes being sold) is there ‘to protect the vitality and viability’ of the town centre, the Chamber adds: “The application proposes to now dismiss this condition less than one year after granted.
“The application site is also shown for the whole of the Barnfield land, rather than just the proposed unit they want to let to Sports Direct. “This will encourage and set precedent for other Chichester based retailers to move away from the city centre, causing further disruption to the already overcrowded road network.”
The Chichester Business Improvement District (BID) agreed, saying waiving the condition a year after putting it in place ‘would be completely illogical’.
Chichester BID said: “The application site is shown for the whole of the Barnfield land rather than just the proposed Unit they want to let to Sports Direct.
“Therefore setting the precedent for other fashion and comparison retailers to migrate away from the city centre and further exacerbating the road network.
“Therefore the BID strongly object to any relaxation of any of the recently approved planning conditions.”
Phase 2 of Barnfield Drive, which would run just to the west of the cemetery, has outline approval, and is a bigger site than Phase 1, with no retailers as yet confirmed.
Richmond Park Residents’ Association chairman Tony Tavinor said if granted, the application would ‘drive horse and cart through the protection of Chichester City centre’.
According to its agent Savills, Sports Direct plans to continue trading from its current store in North Street even if it gets approval at Barnfield Drive.
But Mr Tavinor said: “Does Sports Direct expect us to believe the huge new store will be used by a totally new customer base and that the city centre store will continue unaffected?
“Far from it, their existing customers will of course abandon the smaller store for the new.
“They will be lost to the footfall of the city centre and it will not be long before the Sports Direct shop in North Street closes.”
Saying others would join Sports Direct in preferring an out-of-town location, Mr Tavinor added: “We believe the future viability of Chichester City centre will hang on this decision.
“The planning committee need to be strong and resist this scheme to circumvent a credible policy aimed at retaining a healthy centre.
“We fear that if approved this plan will, in a short space of time make the Portfield/Barnfield area into Chichester’s most vibrant and profitable shopping centre.”
In applying, Savills called the application a ‘minor proposal’, adding that ‘the changes proposed would not deliver a development that is materially different to that which is already supported by the council’.
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