Supermarkets clash over Huntingdon town centre expansion

PLANS to expand Huntingdon town centre, with at least one additional supermarket, will have to go back to the drawing board unless planners can persuade a Government inspector that they have been properly thought through.

PLANS to expand Huntingdon town centre, with at least one additional supermarket, will have to go back to the drawing board unless planners can persuade a Government inspector that they have been properly thought through.

Both Sainsbury’s and Tesco own land in the area Huntingdonshire District Council wants to re-develop, but there will not be room for both of them.

And Churchmanor Estates, which owns Chequers Court and has recently unveiled plans for the final phase of the area’s development after more than a decade of sitting on its hands, was effectively accused of spoiling tactics by lawyers acting for Sainsbury’s.

The inspector, David Vickery, is spending two week in public examination of the council’s action plan for Huntingdon West. This includes mixed development of shops, offices and homes on the land between St John’s Street and the railway line, as well as exploitation of unused and under-used land to the west of the railway at Hinchingbrooke.


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But the clash of the supermarket giants involved the land on the town side of the East Coast main line, where HDC wants to build a new link road between Brampton Road and Ermine Street and expand the town centre.

It has earmarked land currently occupied by a run-down industrial estate as the best place for retail development – land on which Sainsbury’s recently exchanged contracts with the current owners. It wants to put housing at the northern end of the area – around the former Silent Channel premises – that was acquired by Tesco. The supermarket giant has other ideas.

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Although it is already ‘over-trading’ at Abbots Ripton Road, it has plans to tighten its stranglehold on Huntingdon’s grocery market by returning to the expanded town centre if HDC’s plan gets the go-ahead.

But that is far from a foregone conclusion. The inspector revealed at the public inquiry last week that he is far from convinced that the action plan is ‘sound’ because it does not specify exactly how much retail space should be included and what sort of shops the council envisages.

HDC has been left in a bit of a bind. Its consultants identified that the town would need at least 9,000 square metres of additional non-food shopping space to meet unmet and 10-year future demand as well as additional grocery space.

But as HDC has been waiting a decade for Churchmanor to bring forward major proposals for Chequers Court, the Huntingdon West plan was devised without knowing how much of that demand would be met by Chequers Court.

Churchmanor now says it plans to bring forward an application to add 8,000 square metres or retail space on two storeys in Chequers Court, but it is by no means clear that such a development would be acceptable – there is virtually no two-storey shopping in any Huntingdonshire town centre.

That is why the action plan is imprecise on how much retail space it might contain – and why it might fail.

“I am particularly concerned,” the inspector said, “in relation to exactly what is proposed. Flexibility is desirable. Vagueness is not. I presently see this as a potential fundamental unsoundness of the area action plan.”

But in the next breath he promised to take a pragmatic approach to the whole business.

It is for HDC to persuade him that the plan really is thoroughly thought through.

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