DEVELOPERS behind contentious plans for a supermarket in a North Yorkshire market town have launched a new charm offensive after being accused of using flawed data to back up their arguments for the store.
The company behind the proposals for the development, GMI Holbeck Land, has drafted an open letter to the residents of Malton outlining the key reasons why the supermarket should be given the go-ahead.
The letter is now being sent out to 14,000 households in the run-up to Christmas, warning that many shoppers will increasingly look to take their custom to rival destinations unless Malton’s retail sector can compete effectively.
But officials from the Fitzwilliam Estate, which has owned much of Malton town centre for the past 300 years, have accused Leeds-based GMI Holbeck Land of using misleading information in its planning application.
The Fitzwilliam Estate has claimed misleading data has been extracted from a retail survey which showed Malton had slipped down a league table of shopping destinations.
The estate claimed the number of towns listed in two separate studies in 2003 and then 2008 grew from less than 2,000 locations to more than 6,000 - the majority of which were significantly larger than Malton.
The Fitzwilliam Estate’s agent, Roddy Bushell, stressed the data cannot provide an accurate picture for where Malton stands in a national retail league table. He also claimed the market town is weathering the economic downturn better than many rival destinations.
He added: “Far from underpinning the superstore proposal, this study actually undermines its justification. Such a Goliath is not merely unwanted. It is not needed, and this is the proof.”
But GMI Holbeck Land has maintained that the data from the retail study only forms part of its case for building the supermarket on the site of the Wentworth Street car park in Malton.
A spokeswoman claimed the key argument for the superstore is to actually ensure shoppers do not look to other retail destinations such as York and Scarborough - despite Malton’s independent traders voicing fears that they will be driven out of business by the arrival of the supermarket development.
The open letter from the company has stated that as much as £600,000 is spent each week on supermarket shopping outside of the Ryedale area by the district’s own residents taking their custom to rival towns and cities.
The letter warns that “without change Malton’s difficulties will escalate”, and adds: “There are many wonderful things about Malton, especially its independent shops - but it has few high street brands and shopping for clothes and some other essential goods offers little choice.”
The campaign to prevent the supermarket being built has been spearheaded by broadcaster Selina Scott, who lives near Malton. She recruited more than 50 of the region’s oldest-established and prominent families, along with leading public figures and business people, to back her calls against the development.
But a spokeswoman for GMI Holbeck claimed that there has been a “great deal of misinformation circulated”, and added: “We do not have celebrity or aristocratic spokespeople to speak for us and the many supporters of the superstore, but we still have a right to state the facts, and this is what the open letter does.”
The spokeswoman added that there was “nothing surprising, new or relevant” in the statement released by the Fitzwilliam Estate accusing GMI Holbeck Land of using misleading data.
Councillors from Ryedale District Council voted last year to sell the town’s Wentworth Street car park, after seven companies expressed an interest in developing the site.
A planning application was submitted by GMI Holbeck Land to the council in September.