Store plan threat to town revamp

Major regeneration plans in Blyth will be under threat if a supermarket chain is allowed to expand its superstore on the town's outskirts, it is claimed.

Major regeneration plans in Blyth will be under threat if a supermarket chain is allowed to expand its superstore on the town's outskirts, it is claimed.

Town centre businesses and regeneration officials fear the traditional shopping core will suffer serious damage if Asda is allowed to expand its Cowpen store by almost 1,000sqm of floorspace.

It is claimed that could jeopardise potential £65m investment plans to revitalise the town centre and Market Place by linking them to the nearby quayside, where regeneration work has proved hugely successful in recent years.

This week Blyth Valley councillors will be recommended by planning officers to reject Asda's latest bid to extend its Cowpen superstore, which opened in the early 1990s.

The company says the store is often congested and needs more space to display its George clothing range, other existing goods and some additional lines. It says the expansion would create 60 jobs.

However, the plan has been strongly opposed by managers in Blyth town centre and local regeneration agency SENNTRI, who say it will increase out-of-town shopping and hit trade by cutting the number of shopping trips into the town centre.

They also say it would hit ongoing plans to regenerate Blyth's traditional retail centre, which include a new supermarket and shops. Neighbouring Wansbeck Council has also objected saying the expansion would hit trade in the district by attracting even more shoppers from towns such as Bedlington.

Yesterday Simon Pringle, manager of Blyth's Keel Row shopping centre and a member of the town centre management board, said: "We are reluctant to see any decline in the customer base within the town centre. It follows that an expansion of Asda could well have a negative effect on the regeneration that we hope will be taking place in the town centre."

A report to Tuesday's meeting of the council's development control panel says there is concern that the growth of an already strong competitor will hit key regeneration plans for the town centre, including improved shopping facilities at the Keel Row and the existing Morrisons store.

"There is a danger that this competition could discourage much-needed investment in the town centre," it adds.

Asda spokesman Tom McGarry said: "We are disappointed by the officers' recommendation. We understand that locals often fear new investment will have a negative impact but we believe this concern is misplaced.

"We would like to provide Blyth shoppers with a bigger range of products and we believe that is what our customers want."

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