Growing concerns as retail park ‘threatens shops on knife edge’

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A CAMPAIGN against a multi-million pound retail development on the outskirts of York is being intensified amid warnings independent shops already teetering on a knife edge will be driven out of business.

The scheme to build an out-of-town shopping centre for showpiece retailers including Marks and Spencer and John Lewis as well as a long-awaited sports stadium has sparked a wave of opposition.

Members of the Campaign For York action group are now stepping up the fight against the expansion of the existing Monks Cross retail park, located on the northern fringes of the city. A public meeting to outline the need to oppose the retail development is being held this evening, and tens of thousands of leaflets are being distributed to homes across the city.

An initial print run of 30,000 leaflets are being posted through letter boxes this week, calling for residents to support existing jobs and sustainable growth in the city. A website, www.campaign4york.co.uk, is also due to be launched next week.

The Campaign For York’s spokesman, Nick Eggleton, voiced grave fears that many independent retailers who form the bedrock of the city centre’s retail sector will be forced to close if the Monk’s Cross development is approved. He maintained claims by the developers, Wetherby-based Oakgate (Monks Cross) Ltd, that 1,000 jobs would be created are misleading.

Research has suggested that the net gain would be as few as 400 jobs, as up to 600 workers could be made redundant due to impact of the out-of-town retail scheme.

Mr Eggleton, who has run his own business Fifty50 Hair Design and Technology in Little Stonegate for the last five years, said: “Nobody is opposed to competition, but this is unfair competition. What makes York so special is the large number of independent retailers.

“But with the arrival of these massive names, no-one will be able to compete. Many shops in the city centre are already on a knife edge, and there is talk that between 15 and 20 per cent of incomes will be lost. If that happens, it simply will not be worth carrying on.”

Concerns have also been raised over the lure of free parking at the out-of-town development amid fears shoppers will opt to stay away from the expensive city centre car parks.

Campaigners have claimed that there would be a significant impact on the environment due to the number of cars travelling to Monk’s Cross and clogging up the city’s already congested roads.

A planning application was submitted to York Council in September last year, although Oakgate has been asked for more detailed analysis about the impact on highways and city centre retail.

However, the planning application is expected to be considered by the council’s planning committee in March.

Oakgate’s managing director, Richard France, claimed a “number of mistruths” are being circulated about the proposals.

He claimed the effects on the city centre have been “grossly exaggerated in what amounts to scaremongering” and maintained the development will boost York’s economy by at least £12m each year.

He added: “It is right that there is a debate about these important proposals for York, but it is vital that this is backed up by facts and reliable data.”

Mr France also claimed that the company had not been invited to the Campaign For York’s public meeting, which will be held at 5pm in Bennett’s Cafe in High Petergate.

As well as the retail development, the application includes plans for a new 6,000-seater stadium for York City FC and York City Knights. The planned community stadium has been blighted by delays, although a formal commitment was signed by York Council in December 2010 to ensure it becomes a reality.

paul.jeeves@ypn.co.uk