COUNCILLORS preparing to give their verdict on plans for a new Morrisons supermarket at Wick have been told the decision rests on a knife edge.
Retail consultants for Arun District Council say the case for and against the store, on the old Body Shop site at the junction of Lyminster Road and Worthing Road, is “finely balanced”.
While the impact of the new supermarket on Littlehampton town centre would be unlikely to be significant, there was “a very distinct risk” that shops would close in the district shopping centre at Wick.
The Co-op has also warned Arun that it expected a fall in trade would result in a cut in staffing levels at its Wick supermarket, and that a sustained impact “would lead to a high likelihood” of its closure.
Other shops likely to suffer from Morrisons opening up would be the Mini-market convenience store, Martin’s newsagents and a pharmacy, according to the consultants.
Their advice is given in a report by planning officers to Wednesday’s meeting of Arun’s development control committee, which will rule on the proposals.
Should the committee approve the application, it will be referred to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to consider whether he should call it in to make his own decision.
Morrisons claims its 47,500 sq ft store would employ about 280 people and that the refurbishment of former Body Shop offices on the site to create an “enterprise hub” would provide up to 270 further jobs.
However, the supermarket chain’s job creation figures are challenged by Arun’s consultants, who point out that the net gain in jobs is likely to be “substantially less” as a result of staffing levels being cut at competing stores.
Opinion in the wider community seems to be divided over the scheme. Littlehampton Town Council has welcomed the use of the redundant site for employment, but raised serious concerns including highway safety issues arising from extra traffic using the A259 roundabout at the junction, inappropriate access along Courtwick Lane for the enterprise hub, the impact on Wick and town centre businesses and fume hazards from a petrol station so close to Lyminster Primary School.
Arun has also received 13 letters of objection raising similar points, together with objections from Waitrose, with a store in Littlehampton, and the Co-op.
Wick Traders’ Association says it generally supports the new supermarket and feels the development would be a good thing for the Wick Parade shops. A further 11 letters also back the proposed store.
Arun officers say that, on balance, taking into account the positive and negative impacts, the plans should be approved, with a package of community payments from Morrisons including £1m for the proposed Lyminster bypass, £180,000 to improve the Wick shopping centre with new lighting, signs and a website promoting Wick retailers and services and £175,000 for town centre initiatives.