Felixstowe: Superstores decision key to future of town

An artist's impression of the new Tesco superstore at Walton Green - villagers in Trimley St Mary ar

An artist's impression of the new Tesco superstore at Walton Green - villagers in Trimley St Mary are worried about the traffic the development will generate. - Credit: Archant

ONE, two or three new superstores? Like buses, proposals for new supermarkets for Felixstowe have all come along at once – and over the next few months some very big decisions will be made affecting the future of the resort. RICHARD CORNWELL reports.

Walton Felixstowe Community First campaigners protesting about the proposed Walton Green Tesco devel

Walton Felixstowe Community First campaigners protesting about the proposed Walton Green Tesco development at Felixstowe. - Credit: Archant

ON one side of the great supermarket divide, opponents fear a new superstore will suck the life blood out of the town centre.

Shops will close, jobs will be lost, and Felixstowe’s Hamilton Road will become a ghost town.

Those sitting on the other side of the chasm take, not surprisingly, a very different view. They claim a superstore will “claw back” for the town £10million people currently spend at out-of-town stores around Ipswich.

It will be, they say, a great opportunity for the town centre to provide the shops selling the goods the superstore will not stock and encourage people to shop closer to home.

It is true towns have survived living with a superstore. Felixstowe weathered the arrival of Safeway (now Morrisons) amid similar fears 20 years ago, and Woodbridge reinvented itself as a niche town of independent shops after Tesco developed Martlesham Heath.

It’s not an easy debate to resolve, but over the next few months Suffolk Coastal councillors will have to decide whether or not a new supermarket will have a devastating impact on the town centre.

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And not just once – but three times.

Plans are now with the council for a 30,000sq ft Tesco at Walton Green, Walton High Road, and a similar size store on land next to the railway station, and a third store – understood to be an Asda – at Haven Exchange, opposite Dock Gate One.

In theory, all three could be approved; in practice, that’s unlikely.

Felixstowe Chamber of Trade and the Walton Felixstowe Community First (WFCF) action group are adamant a superstore will have a huge impact, causing “permanent damage”.

WFCF says the proposed Tesco and Albourne Property town centres store will be more than twice the size of that needed for the resort, according to council policy.

Mary Wyatt of WFCF said: “There is simply not the need for a development of this scale. Tesco will therefore be taking business from existing businesses and supermarkets in the town. It will make new investment in Felixstowe town centre much more unlikely.

“There is considerable evidence that an out-of-town store does initially create jobs – probably low-grade, part-time ones – but stops footfall in high street shops, causing businesses to close.

“The result is that there are jobs lost not only from the small businesses and shops, but from their suppliers, electricians, plumbers, decorators and accountants.”

The group believes the site off Station Approach is a better option, but still too big and will create traffic congestion.

The chamber of trade may also prefer the railway station development to Walton Green.

Chairman Andrew Rowdon said: “I think we have enough supermarkets as it stands in Felixstowe – however, I would much prefer to see this area of land near the railway station developed than the site Tesco propose at Walton Green.

“I think if there are businesses prepared to invest in Felixstowe that can only be a good thing and whoever takes on this store, if it is approved and built, should encourage people to park a little longer in their car parking facilities and invite them to explore the rest of the town centre.

“I have nothing against Tesco per se but to have a shop within the town would stop people going out of the town, which the Tesco proposal is likely to do, and keep business in the town centre.”

With the Haven Exchange proposals so new, views are still being formed on their possible impact.

Tesco has been as open as possible with its project – hundreds of pages of reports showing exactly how its consultants believe it will impact the town.

It has not ducked the issues either. The company openly admits Walton Green will take at least £4m a year currently spent in the town centre.

Of that sum, £1.7m would be from its own Tesco Metro, with the rest from Iceland, Marks & Spencer and the Co-op. It does not believe the loss of trade will be damning enough to force any of the stores to close.

The rest of the store’s £19m turnover would come from Morrisons, expected to lose £4.1m a year, and edge-of-Ipswich stores, from which it reckons it would gain £10.2m, including a sizeable amount from its own Martlesham store.

In fact, the company says its new store will bring between £2m and £3m to the town centre through people doing their food shop at Walton Green and then going into Hamilton Road to buy other day-to-day household items they would have bought out-of-town.

Whether people will actually do that – or not change their shopping habits and continue to travel to a one-stop shop where they can buy everything under one roof – is hotly debated.

Town planning and development consultants Alsop Verrill, working for Tesco and Trinity College, Cambridge, say there is a “clearly emerging trend” showing those using the town centre for their main food shopping are the elderly, those without children and those without cars, who would probably stay loyal to their chosen shops.

Families and adults used Waitrose, Tesco at Martlesham, Sainsbury and Asda – and could be persuaded to shop closer to home.

Alsop Verrill said: “A troubling by-product of more and more people doing their main food shopping significantly away from Felixstowe is the growing familiarity and acclimatisation of this habit and what might be seen as a disinclination to do any or much shopping close to home.

“Unless Felixstowe improves its own shopping offer in a way that matches the expectations of people shopping out of town, the drift from local shopping will continue, to the long-term detriment of the town centre and its businesses.”

At Albourne Property, planning consultant David Prichard said: “The development will significantly extend and improve the range of food shopping facilities available within Felixstowe town centre, increase consumer choice and provide a readily accessible main food shopping facility that will draw trade back into the town centre currently lost to stores in more distant centres such as Ipswich.”

Cranford (Felixstowe) Ltd says its 20,000sq ft Haven Exchange scheme is more modest altogether.

A spokesman said: “Because of the smaller scale of the store proposed and the existence of a previous planning permission for retail development at the site, the impact on the town centre is significantly less than either of the other two proposals.”

Now it will be up to the planners to decide – few would suggest all three projects will succeed, but it is unlikely all will fail.

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