RETAIL giant Sainsbury’s has failed in a bid to extend the floor space of its new supermarket on the outskirts of Kelso to create a mezzanine cafe/restaurant.
The proposal, which caused a storm of protest among town centre traders, was thrown out by seven votes to four at Monday’s meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee.
But despite the rebuff, the store will open, as scheduled, later this year and TheSouthern understands the firm will not lodge an appeal.
The rejection came despite Sainsbury’s, as revealed in TheSouthern last week, agreeing to reduce the seating of the upstairs facility from 104 to just 60.
The plans had been recommended for approval by the council’s local planning officer Andrew Evans, who advised: “While the fears of existing retailers and food businesses in the town centre are noted, they do not amount to justifiable reason for the refusal of this application.”
But although commercial competition is not a material planning issue, the majority of elected members sided with the traders and backed a motion for refusal from Conservative councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre.
She pointed out that, following a public inquiry into the use of the former Keltek site, owned at the time by SBC, the reporter had made a clear recommendation that the gross floor area of any supermarket should not exceed 4,500 sq. metres.
After acquiring neighbouring land and agreeing various infrustructure obligations, including the creation of a five-arm roundabout, Sainsbury’s was finally given the planning go-ahead by the committee a year ago.
But having enjoyed the support of Kelso’s traders up to this point, Sainsbury’s new bid to increase the floor space by 500 metres to create the mezzanine cafe was met with a chilly reception.
Indeed, there were 18 individual objections, including one from Kelso Chamber of Trade stating: “We feel Sainsbury’s is cynically manipulating the situation to get the store they always wanted.”
After Monday’s vote, Mrs Riddell-Carre said: “I moved the permission which was granted by the whole council last year should be subject to the same planning conditions and that we should therefore reject this application.
“Sainsbury’s is permitted to have a cafe on the ground floor under its existing permission, but clearly any such facility would be self-limiting because the firm would not wish to lose any more than the absolute minimum of retail space.
“The proposal to increase floor space was rejected because it would have an adverse impact on the vitality and viability of Kelso town centre. I very much hope that Sainsbury’s will respect this decision and not lose local goodwill by lodging an appeal.”
Responding to the decision, Sainsbury’s national development surveyor Paul Miller told us: “Sainsbury’s is naturally disappointed with the decision to refuse our application for an extension in gross floor area.
“We are, however, looking forward to progressing with the store and opening our doors to the community later this summer.”
Although Mr Miller did not allude to an appeal, his commitment to opening on time suggests the company will accept Monday’s decision, despite having the comfort of Mr Evans’s recommendation for approval, in order to retain the goodwill of traders and townsfolk, while not delaying construction.
TheSouthern believes, however, that the new store will have a cafe on the ground floor and that the firm will seek to open an early dialogue with traders about how Sainsbury’s can help promote the town centre.
A bus service between the store and the town will also be discussed.
Councillor Tom Weatherston, although Kelso’s sole member of the planning committee, declared an interest in the application and left the chamber during the debate.
Mr Weatherson explained later that, as an employee of Forbes Plastics which had received financial support from Sainsbury’s to relocate at Pinnaclehill, he was unable to participate.
But he said he welcomed the decision of the planning committee.
“I feel this was a misjudgement on Sainsbury’s part,” he told us. “In my view they should have run the supermarket for a couple of years and then entered discussions with traders in Kelso, who have been so supportive of the company, if they believed it was necessary to extend floor space for a cafe.
“I am, however, delighted that this blip is not going to hold up construction of the store for which the groundworks are now complete. It will both maintain local shoppers and attract new customers to Kelso, helping to retain expenditure within the town.”