PLANS for a new multi-million pound shopping centre in Worcester can today be revealed - creating around 500 new jobs.
Although the shops are being kept a closely guarded secret, we understand talks are already well advanced with John Lewis about becoming a main focus for it, and that negotiations have included the likes of Next, Marks & Spencer, B&Q, Morrisons and Sainsbury's.
The park is likely to span 500,000 sq ft and come with around 1,100 parking spaces, creating a significant new shopping destination.
Although the retailer says it will not comment on speculation, John Lewis is believed to be interested in opening a 'House' store on the site, which specialises in furnishings for property.
The land in question is known as Worcester Woods, which the city council has wanted to see developed since the 1990s.
The 11 hectares of greenery is owned by Spetchley Estates, and back in 2005 outline planning permission was granted for a business park on the land.
The development never came to fruition but the site is still considered ideal for investment and is in the South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP) for some kind of commercial use.
In recent months a new plan has been hatched, led by Land Securities, the country's biggest developer.
The firm has been touting the site to interested retailers and wants to create a shopping centre offering something different to the city centre.
The city council is also believed to be open minded about it, as long as the retail park focuses on items like home furnishings and does not directly compete with the High Street.
The development would not affect Worcester Woods Country Park, a county council-owned countryside centre which sits just behind the site.
At the moment talks are ongoing with the retailers, with Land Securities aiming to get as many as possible to agree to become a part of it in principle, subject to a planning application being submitted and then approved.
But the proposals are considerably well advanced, and the application for the site is expected to include as least 13 different units led by an anchor store in a 90,000 sq ft shop, according to sources close to the project.
A spokesman for Land Securities said: "Land Securities is assessing the viability of creating a retail scheme that would bring investment and jobs to Worcester, compliment the city’s existing retail offer and make Worcester a more attractive regional retail destination."
CITY LEADERS WELCOME PLAN - AS LONG AS HIGH STREET IS SAFE
SHOPS and community leaders have welcomed the retail park plan - saying they would not be against it as long as it does not harm the High Street.
Land Securities' plan is believed to be based around creating a range of shops that will not compete with the city centre.
Worcester MP Robin Walker said: "The jobs would obviously be great and the investment talked about here is another big positive for the city.
"More big names looking to invest in Worcester is always welcome, it's really exciting.
"But it's vital the shops are the right ones, we must protect the city centre and I believe parking charges must come down."
Councillor Adrian Gregson, city council leader, said: "If you look at everything else that's going on in Worcester like Cathedral Plaza, the cultural quarter, a Waitrose, Sherriff Street, the technology park, the level of investment is very positive and we want to see that continue."
Sources say the shopping centre is becoming an 'open secret' among well-known brands, and that there is some concern about the impact on city centre shops.
James Brown, store manager at DW Sports in the High Street, said: "I've worked in Kidderminster and Dudley but Worcester is different, it's got a lot of coffee shops, branded stores, plenty of affluence.
"My worry would be shops leaving to relocate there, as long as that doesn't happen.
"They need to make sure the city centre stays strong and that it doesn't compete.
"Business is good here and I believe that's because of the city centre."
Under planning guidelines, the Government has told councils not to differentiate between office jobs and retail based employment.
But key to any approval would be how it would impact upon the city centre, and what plans are in place to deal with congestion.
All of the retailers understood to be in talks over the site have refused to confirm their interest publicly, although some have gone further than others.
A spokesman for Sainsbury's said: "Worcester is a city we’ve been interested in expanding our presence in for some time.
"We have explored a number of options though have yet to confirm any particular site."
A spokesman for John Lewis said it would not comment on "market speculation".
Land Securities says a timescale for the planning application is dependent upon signing up retailers, and that it could be submitted before the end of the year.