MAJOR retail developments are turning Exeter into a genuine alternative to Bristol, city leaders have claimed.
Planning permission has now been granted for a £60m Ikea store and a second Morrisons, which combined will create more than 700 new jobs.
And designs for a multimillion-pound revamp of the city’s Guildhall Shopping Centre have also gone on show.
With the recent arrival of other retail giants including John Lewis, the city council believes Exeter has eclipsed Plymouth and now rivals Bristol for the “best in the west” crown.
Phil Bialyk, chairman of the planning committee, said: “Big decisions have been made that will make us a big alternative to Bristol in the region.”
Ikea ‘will make city first for shopping’
THE arrival of Ikea has been heralded as a move that could establish Exeter as the South West’s premier retail destination.
In less than an hour the city council’s planning committee unanimously backed plans for the £60m store on land off the A379 between Sandy Park and Newcourt on Monday night.
And in doing so they expressed excitement that the arrival of the Swedish retail giants first store west of Bristol would have a major impact on Exeter’s economy.
Head of planning Richard Short told them the proposal would create 380 jobs and divert around £14m of trade from Ikea’s Bristol store.
He added that the spin-off effect for businesses in Exeter could be worth up to £19.5m with an additional 390,000 annual linked trips into the city centre.
Mr Short told the committee: “The benefits from extra expenditure would vastly outweigh any trade diversion.”
After the meeting Exeter city centre manager John Harvey said: “It’s a boost for the city economy as a whole.
“It’s great news in terms of our profile and a further sign that we are the investment location of choice west of Bristol.
“While it’s clearly not in the city centre, the fact that there’s a benefit to the economy as a whole brings with it a benefit to the city centre as much as anywhere else.
“There’s an opportunity for people coming to Exeter to shop at Ikea to then visit the city centre, and we have already started discussions with Ikea to make sure we can capitalise on this.”
Even Cllr Andrew Leadbetter, who had attended the meeting to represent the views of residents, acknowledged he was not there to argue against it.
“However with all these benefits must come responsibility,” he added.
“This is such a big thing and could be a great thing, I know many people in Exeter really want Ikea but can we just make sure we look after the residents who will live around it.”
Cllr Leadbetter said the main concerns were around the effect it would have on the surrounding roads.
“This has been largely mitigated by an increase in the number of car parking spaces that would be provided to 1,004.
Both the highways Agency and Devon County Council also believe that junction 30 of the M5, due to be improved by April 2015, will be able to cope with the increased traffic.
During the meeting Cllr Rachel Sutton described it as a “very exciting opportunity for the city”.
“I know better than most the amount of time that has gone in to this,” she added. “There are a number of reasonable concerns raised around the transport links but a lot raised have been addressed.”
Chairman of the planning committee Councillor Phil Bialyk went as far as saying: “This will make us a big alternative to Bristol in the region. Ikea is a very important addition to the city.”
Councillor Yolonda Henson said she was “chuffed” Ikea would be coming, while Councillor Percy Prowse said he had high hopes for a knock-on effect of people visiting the city’s attractions and shops after going to Ikea.
The development also includes plans for up to 220 new homes, which were also approved unanimously at this week’s meeting.
Welcoming the planning outcome Gillian Drakeford, country manager for IKEA UK & Ireland said: “We are delighted that Exeter City Council has supported our outline planning application. It recognises the significant contribution an Ikea store will bring to the local economy.”
A spokesman for the retailer added that it was still too soon to confirm an opening date for the 28,000 square metre store.
Its focus was now on moving forward with the development of its in-depth plans for the site.
Go-ahead for Morrisons to build its second store
PLANS for a new supermarket in Exeter that will generate 350 jobs have been given the green light by councillors.
Retail giant Morrisons won backing to build its second city store at an Exeter City Council planning committee meeting on Monday night.
The investment in the site at Middlemoor will also pave the way for Devon and Cornwall Police to build a new criminal justice centre and police hub on the site to replace the “dire” custody suite at Heavitree Road station.
The two applications are inextinguishably linked with Deputy Chief Constable Bill Skelly telling the meeting how important the plans were for the next generation of policing.
After the meeting he expressed his delight that the scheme was going ahead.
He said: “This decision means that Devon and Cornwall Police is a step closer to bringing about important and much needed changes to its infrastructure without diverting funds from front line policing. This will result in modern facilities that will meet the needs of a growing economy and increasing population in East Devon, Exeter and the wider region.
“In addition, at a time when jobs are much needed, Morrisons will deliver employment and training opportunities.
“We are pleaded with the decision and look forward to starting work on the plans in the very near future. We will, of course, continue to keep residents fully informed and consult with them when appropriate.
Councillors backed the plans, which also include 83 new homes unanimously despite concerns being raised over the transport issues.
The new site will house a 40-cell custody suite that will replace the one in Heavitree Road that was described as “not fit for purpose”.
Some concern was raised by councillors about the risk to nearby residents of detainees leaving custody but Deputy Chief Constable Skelly said that from experience this wasn’t perceived to be a big problem.
“In an area with a bigger concentration of police officers crime generally falls,” he added.
The Morrisons store itself will include 418 parking spaces and there had been concern that it could take trade away from other areas.
But head of planning Richard Short said: “The Morrisons store proposed as part of this application will not have a significant adverse impact upon any defined existing shopping centre in Exeter in terms of either vitality or viability.”
There were some fears about the impact on the surrounding roads.
But Cllr Yolonda Henson said: “I have no problem with Morrisons and I would like one up the road from me. But what is a definite increase in traffic going in and out of Exeter? I have concerns about heavy increase in traffic.” Cllr Percy Prowse added: “I welcome the benefits that this will bring and without Morrisons on the site none of this can go ahead.”
Despite the committee’s approval, the Highways Agency is preventing the granting of planning permission for six months, until further assessments are completed on the effect of the development on traffic at junctions 29 and 30 of the M5.
“The Highways Agency has powers of direction, we cannot overrule it, planning permission will not be granted while the holding direction is in place, hence the recommendation to delegate to me subject to its removal by the agency.”
Mr Short added: “The developer will need to provide further technical work to persuade the agency to withdraw the holding direction.
“If matters are not resolved six months after it was made it can extend it or direct refusal.”
‘Positive feedback’ for £7m revamp of Exeter’s Guildhall Shopping Centre
MORE images showing how Exeter’s Guildhall Shopping Centre could look after a £7m revamp have been released.
Details of the scheme went on show to the public this week ahead of planning applications being submitted to the city council.
Around 100 people visited the pop-up exhibition on Tuesday, where centre manager Andrew McNeilly and representatives of architects BDP and property consultants GL Hearn and Cushman & Wakefield were on hand to answer questions.
The first significant investment in the centre since it opened in 1976 is being led by owner Aviva Investors. The plans include remodelled entrances, improved public spaces and expanded restaurant premises which it is hoped will attract distinctive local and regional operators. Mr McNeilly said: “People have been telling us they really like the plans and that it’s overdue. They are really happy that the owners are spending money on the centre, which many locals hold quite dear. What we want to do is make that bond even stronger and hopefully give them more to enjoy.”
Nick Jones, of GL Hearn, added: “We need to analyse everything we have heard but the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Planning applications are expected to be submitted within the next few weeks. If approved, the first phase of works could start in August, with the whole scheme expected to be completed by October 2015.
City centre manager John Harvey said: “These plans will deliver a significant boost to the Guildhall Shopping Centre and the city centre. This significant investment is somewhat overdue and I hope the plans meet with the widespread support I would expect and that work can commence on turning them into reality as soon as possible.”
Feedback can still be submitted via the Guildhall Shopping Centre’s website, where details of the plans can be found.