Councillors urged to reject retail park plans, despite warning from major employer

A plan of the proposed site in Middleton, circled in red.
A plan of the proposed site in Middleton, circled in red.

A major retailer has warned it would leave a Leeds town for good if a planning application for a new retail park were rejected.

The chief executive of B&M has said the company would vacate Middleton altogether if it were unable to relocate from its “sub-standard” town centre store into a brand new store in the proposed new retail park on the site of Benyon House.

The development would include Lidl, Costa Coffee and Jack Fulton in addition to B&M, and the applicants claim the site would create 140 jobs.

However, businesses, locals and council planning officers feel it could significantly harm the nearby town centre.

A report to Leeds City Council’s south and west plans panel says the town centre relies heavily on the existing B&M store, claiming it makes up for 42 per cent of spending in the town. As the store would be moving to the proposed site, the report concludes difficulties in finding a replacement tenant for the existing store could put the town centre at risk.

But, in a letter sent to council leader Judith Blake last month, B&M’s chief executive Simon Arora claimed the company would leave its existing site in Middleton, no matter what the outcome.

It stated: “Our lease comes to an end in October 2019 and our intention is not to renew the lease and vacate Middleton altogether. This will result in less investment in the area (from B&M) and fewer jobs in the ward.

“The existing store is sub-standard, doesn’t hit our profitability profile/hurdle rates and does not meet our business strategy moving forward.

“We ideally would like to stay in Middleton in a brand new store, with capacity to take our full range of goods and a garden centre, providing further investment from us and extra jobs in Middleton for local people. This is simply not achievable from our existing accommodation.

“We would urge you to discuss our intentions with your officers or at least take the application to planning committee where councillors can decide what is best for the area rather than officers sticking to government guidelines.”

A report from officers to Leeds City Council’s south and west plans panel claimed that the new site should still be rejected, such is the impact it would have on the town centre.

It said: “Should that unit not be re-occupied the impact upon Middleton town centre will be significantly adverse. In our view there is now significant doubt about that re-occupation, and given that the unit generates 42 per cent of the turnover of the centre, the failure to re-occupy the unit with a store of a similar footfall and turnover would have a significant adverse impact on Middleton town centre.”

But re-occupying the town centre site would be difficult, due to the size of the building. Officers added that 16 high street operators including Boots and Wilkinsons were contacted, all of whom said they would not be interested in taking on the unit. It added initial interest had been made by a retailer and a gym operator.

Supermarket giant Asda, which has a superstore in Middleton, also urged the authority to reject the application, as it believes there is insufficient interest to ensure B&M’s current site would be re-occupied.

In an objection sent to the council, the company stated: “There is no evidence the unit would be occupied. A retailer indicating it may take the space cannot be considered to provide certainty to determine a planning application.”

Smaller traders also believe the development would have an impact on their businesses.

In a letter to the council, trader Samira Arshad said: “As a retailer at the Middleton District Centre I know that this will have a detrimental effect to the trade at the centre.

“Asda has had a massive impact negatively and this planned retail centre would surely see us suffer more. There is already massive congestion problems on the two main roundabouts which already pose a dangerous risk to drivers by having to stop midway on a roundabout and leaving them open to collisions.

“The area already provides multiple shopping areas for the public with the recent addition of Asda and Aldi, therefore it seems ludicrous to add more shops selling the same items to serve the same local community.”

Leeds Civic Trust, in another letter to the council, claimed the site should have a residential component to help meet housing needs.

It stated: “There is an urgent need for more housing in Leeds and there is a strong desire to provide new housing on brownfield sites, such as this one. There are plenty examples from around Leeds and other cities of residential units (particularly apartments) being provided above or alongside medium-sized retail and leisure units and we see no reason why this could not be delivered here.

“We do not object to the principle of developing this site for

uses including retail and leisure. We feel the proposal would benefit from a more diverse mixture of uses and a layout that more explicitly acknowledges the community it seeks to serve.”

A decision is expected to be made at Leeds City Council’s south and west plans panel on Thursday, October 18.