WORCESTER'S £150 million John Lewis-led retail park dream today lies in tatters - with the city council set to REJECT the massive development.

Worcester City Council's planning committee has been advised to turn down the huge Newtown Road shopping centre proposal, with the dramatic verdict leaving High Street traders jubilant.

But the verdict has been blasted by the developer working with John Lewis, which says it is "very surprised and disappointed" and has raised the findings with leading barristers. 

An independent expert investigation says:

- It would result in a "10.8 per cent" loss of trade for the city centre, sparking the decline of the High Street

- It would make attracting city centre investment "much more difficult" and damage the iconic £20 million Cathedral Square development

- John Lewis should open up a store at St Martin's Quarter, where there is already plenty of space for it

- The "whole development" could be located more centrally, with industrial land off Sherriff Street a more suitable site for the 13-unit plaza

- City centre food trade would take a hammering, with the Worcester Woods' proposed Sainsbury's store resulting in a 29 per cent loss in trade, damaging the new London Road Waitrose and ASDA

Land Securities, the UK's biggest developer, has been working on its 'Worcester Woods' scheme for two years and says its project, building over green fields near the hospital, would create 551 jobs.

The 13 units include 398,000 square foot of floor space, one third of the entire city centre, with a 30,000 sq ft Marks & Spencer, 60,000 sq ft Sainsbury’s, £7 million 40,000 sq ft John Lewis at Home store and a Next Home and Garden outlet signed up so far.

A decision will now be made by the planning committee next Wednesday, with a 30-page report by officers recommending it be refused.

The findings have come about after the authority commissioned independent experts, DPDS consulting, to assess what impact it could have on the city.

The outcome, condensed into a six-page summary, says it is "undeniable" that other sites like St Martin's Gate and the Shrub Hill Opportunity Zone off Sherriff Street, which is due to be redeveloped anyway, would be better sites for the likes of John Lewis.

It also says investment into the Cathedral Square scheme, which will feature seven new restaurants and an array of shops, has stalled due to the uncertainty over Worcester Woods.

Some of the other concerns include a "failure" to take into account internet trading growth and fears about Next and M&S being unable to guarantee that their city stores would stay open for the long-term.

The council report states: "Worcester city centre is recognised as being in a relatively healthy retail condition, without immediately obvious signs of economic difficulties.

"There are nevertheless areas which are in need of regeneration, and the city centre failed to attract major retail developments in the early noughties when many centres did.

"Acceptance of this proposal would provide a signal to the market about the council's approach to protecting those retailers who have invested in the city centre."


DELIGHTED city centre traders today say they feel vindicated by the Worcester Woods recommendation - urging councillors to boot it out for good.

Ever since the planning application was received by the council in 2014 a mountain of objections have poured in, from major High Street retailers like JoJo Maman Bebe and House of Fraser to independents.

Tim Evans, who runs Toys & Games of Worcester in Broad Street, said: "I was up until midnight reading the report and I feel vindicated, it backs up everything I've been saying about this.

"I'm really pleased, but reading that report it scared the living hell out of me when it talks about the drop in trade if it went ahead - if we lost 11 per cent of trade we'd have to get rid of all our staff.

"It just isn't sensible."

Long-standing retailer Mark Stewart, who runs Wise Owl Toys in Charles Street with wife Heather, said: "It's great news - from our perspective it was always a risk, and a risk not worth taking frankly.

"That's especially the case with the Cathedral Square development and some major stores coming out against this - we just hope they follow the recommendation."

In recent months the raft of objections have included four major retail parks - Elgar, Blackpole and Shrub Hill in Worcester, and Malvern Retail Park.

Dan Bramwell, the spokesman for all four of the sites, said: "The findings are welcome as it's our opinion that Worcester Woods will have a devastating impact on both the city centre and the four retail parks.

"This is a key decision in maintaining the city's retail vitality, if the development is allowed it cannot be reversed in years to come.

"This retail scheme will severely impact on the centre's vitality and totally contradicts the applicant's previous representations to the Local Plan in November 2011 in which it stressed that any such development should be retained in the city.

"Furthermore, the Worcester Woods site has an existing permission for employment use and is undoubtedly the best such strategic site in the area.

"Allowing this to be lost to retail uses could impact heavily on Worcester’s attraction for future employment and will mean the loss of potential higher paid jobs."

The Bishop of Worcester Dr John Inge and even district councils in Redditch and Wychavon are also among the objections, while the Federation of Small Businesses had "raised concerns" about the impact on city traders.

Adrian Field, from Worcester's Business Improvement District, said: "Our members, who are city centre traders, have consistently told us this proposal would be bad for them, for the city centre, and would be irreversible. 

"The council’s advisers have estimated that if allowed Worcester Woods would reduce trade in comparison goods in the city centre by over 10%, this would disastrous for many businesses and we urge members of the committee to take their officers’ advice and refuse the application."


THE developers behind Worcester Woods say they are “very surprised and disappointed” by the recommendation – calling it a “once in a generation opportunity”.

Land Securities, Britain’s biggest developer, said the scheme would create 622 jobs when taking into account all the associated employment, and that it would result in £11 million of wages being pumped into the economy.

It also emerged today how the firm is prepared to offer Worcester City Council a £1 million sweetener to get its deal, towards public realm improvements in the city centre and street signs.

A spokesman said: “Worcester Woods offers a once in a generation opportunity for Worcester to boost its retail offer, its local economy and create 622 full-time equivalent jobs for residents.   

“The development will provide new floor-space to accommodate John Lewis at Home, Next Home and Garden and M&S and will ensure the city has a full range of retail facilities, both in and out of centre, to meet customer needs. 

“Worcester has to continue to improve its retail offer if it is to retain its position in the local retail hierarchy.

 “Worcester City Council has based its recommendation on a report which unfortunately contains inaccuracies. 

“In addition, the methodology used in the report is inconsistent with national planning policy and guidance - we have advised both the planning authority and the city council of this with advice from one of the country’s leading barristers.”

The firm also said the development would pump £60 million of private sector investment into the city, and that the land has already been identified for employment use.

He added: “At present, some £123m is lost from Worcester to competing centres, including Birmingham and Cheltenham and this is forecast to increase to in excess of £150m in the next five years. 

“This money should be kept locally and the proposed development will help to achieve this.

“It is agreed between ourselves and the council that the city centre can grow, and improve alongside the development of Worcester Woods as a result of the growth in population and spending. 

"It follows that the city can realise the benefits of the development without harming the city centre.”

The planning committtee meeting will get underway from 1.30pm next Wednesday, June 22, at the Guildhall.