‘Huge concerns’ have been raised about the future of Eastbourne town centre amid fears that the Crumbles retail park will re-invent itself as an out of town fashion park and ‘poach’ the high street stores.
Senior business figures and some of the town’s most prominent retailers have called for urgent action to safeguard the future prosperity of the town centre.
They believe Sovereign Harbour Retail Park (SHRP) could become a threat to the town centre following its designation as a district shopping centre.
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The district status allows landlord PRUPIM to entice High Street names to the park. In last week’s Herald, PRUPIM said it was abandoning plans to extend its leisure offer - raising fears it will now launch a campaign to poach top brands.
It is believed that T.K.Maxx, which was tipped as one of the anchor stores in the new Arndale extension, is about to sign a deal to move into the retail park.
Derek Godfrey, vice chairman of South East Local Enterprise Partnership and a director of Eastbourne and District Chamber of Commerce, said, “If Sovereign Harbour is allowed to poach high street fashion brands, this must put a question mark over the viability of the extension.
“The new extension will not open its doors until 2015, so PRUPIM has a two-year head start to cause real damage to the town centre.
“I am wholly supportive of Sovereign Harbour Retail Park as a shopping destination, but it must be for boxed goods and home wear goods that would complement rather than directly compete with the town centre offer.”
Legal & General (L&G), which owns the Arndale Centre and is funding the planned extension, has started a Judicial Review to challenge the planning inspector’s decision.
Simon Russian, head of retail development at L&G Property, said, “The planning inspector is seeking to alter the retail hierarchy in Eastbourne by changing the planning status of Sovereign Harbour Retail Park to a district centre.
“This would be to the detriment of the town centre retail offer and therefore against National Planning Policy.
“In order to protect the town centre in these challenging economic times, the owners of the Arndale Centre have therefore sought to challenge these amendments and keep the borough council’s carefully worded Core Strategy document as they originally intended it.”
Ashley Pugh, who runs three town centre shops, also raised concerns and said, “The decision to give the retail park a district status is very disappointing. If our town centre is to continue to flourish, we need a balanced offer. But if PRUPIM embarks on a campaign to snatch our top fashion brands, this will cause real concerns for town centre traders and for the wider town economy.”
Tim Tradwell, chairman of the Eastbourne Independent Retailers Association, added, “We are very disappointed that PRUPIM seems to have moved away from being a leisure offer. Sovereign Harbour makes a great location for a mixed leisure offering where the town centre would struggle to accommodate these larger units.”
Stephen Gwilliam, director of asset management at PRUPIM, said, “We continue to consider a variety of longer term plans for the retail park to complement Eastbourne’s wider offer, which we will progress in consultation with the local Council and community at the appropriate time. We believe that Eastbourne will benefit from both a vibrant town centre and Sovereign Harbour.”