Plans for a Marks and Spencer food store on the Angmering and Rustington border are back to square one after a bitter wrangle between rivals.
M&S secured approval from councillors to build a Simply Food store on the A259 in 2015, but permission was quashed following a judicial review by Store Property, landlords of Waitrose, in Rustington.
Waitrose left Littlehampton town centre two years ago – a vacant site also leased by Store Property – which the landlord argues is suitable for M&S.
But M&S has continually dismissed the site, claiming it has ‘significant’ viability issues.
A new planning application for the out-of-town site is now with Arun District Council.
Councillor Derrick Chester, chairman of Littlehampton Town Council’s planning and transport committee said: “Littlehampton was robbed of a major store, leaving a hole in the heart of the town.
“There should be no question of further out-of -town stores being permitted until this store, with its own car park, is occupied.”
Applicants for out-of-town retail stores must demonstrate no suitable alternative town centre sites are available.
Documents submitted by agents for M&S raise concerns over the ‘genuine availability’ of the town centre site, in Avon Road.
They claim Waitrose must pay rent on the site’s lease until 2020 and that Store Property had made ‘no real efforts’ to secure new tenants.
It also argues there are ‘significant viability issues’ and that previous foodstore operators in Avon Road ‘failed to operate successfully’.
But Michael Finnegan, of Waitrose, rubbished the claims and said the store ‘traded well’ before relocation.
He said: “The decision to relocate to Rustington was triggered by a significant and commercially generous incentive package from the landlord of the Rustington store and was not due to the performance of the Littlehampton store.”
Agents acting for Store Property said the Avon Road site was preferable.
They said the site was ‘clearly and without doubt available’ and it was ‘incorrect and misleading’ to say other food operators failed.
It described the chance to have M&S in Littlehampton would be an ‘excellent opportunity’. The plans will be determined at a later date. The ‘hybrid’ application also includes provision of a public house, with artists’s impressions indicating potential for a Toby Carvery.